June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali: "A Powerful, Dangerous Political Force"

Dave Zirin rightly calls Muhammad Ali "a powerful, dangerous political force":
He was willing to go to jail in opposition to the war in Vietnam. But one has to hear the voice, and read the words, to understand what exactly made it so dangerous and, by extension, made it all matter.

Imagine not only an athlete but a public figure telling these kinds of unvarnished truths. To this day it is awe-inspiring that he once bellowed "God damn the white man's money" at a time when such words were more than shocking — they were sacrilege.

It is awe-inspiring that, when facing five years in prison, Ali said: "I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand — either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth must eventually prevail." ...

In 1967, long before it was obvious to most, Ali connected the black freedom struggle to the injustices of the war in Vietnam, saying: "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again: The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. ... I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what?"
Three other articles worth reading in the wake of Ali's death:

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016): Anti-War Legend and Boxing Great Dies at 74
Jon Queally, Common Dreams

"I Just Wanted to Be Free": The Radical Reverberations of Muhammad Ali
Dave Zirin, The Nation

Muhammad Ali Risked It All When He Opposed The Vietnam War
Justin Block, Huffington Post


In the comments to today's game post, I posted a link to a Daily News column criticizing former Yankee Derek Jeter for his comments about Ali. Headline: "Derek Jeter Honors Muhammad Ali For Living The Life He Never Would". Columnist Ebenezer Samuel called Jeter "the most inauthentic athlete of our time" and the "anti-Ali".
Muhammad Ali ... dared to use his athletic platform to push for social change. ...

Derek Jeter had ample opportunity to speak his mind in front of the media, but never did. ...

[Jeter was] a superstar who could have addressed any issue he ever wanted. But Jeter, tone-deaf on Saturday because he never listened to the world in the first place, never understood what Ali really brought, that what he really did was offer a roadmap for today's athlete to be an activist. ...

For two decades in pinstripes, Jeter wanted no part of authenticity. He made a career out of not speaking his mind, unless Gatorade or Rawlings or the Steiner Sports memorabilia machine were paying him ... [He] stood only for his right to stand for absolutely nothing.
I am always up for some Jeter-bashing, but Maxwell Horse went a bit deeper with this comment (with which I wholeheartedly agree):
The Jeter article is a reminder of how most everyone in this country sounds completely full of crap when it comes to paying tribute to people like Muhammad Ali or Martin Luther King.

Everyone is championing how courageous and heroic Ali was after his death. Why? Well, because he fought for social change, was anti-war, and wasn't afraid to espouse values beyond the same mindless jingoistic sloganeering that most people repeat like parrots.

Basically, they're praising Ali for every action and opinion that, should he be espousing them today, they would crucify him for. If he (or MLK) were alive today and doing their thing, these same people would be burning them in effigy. Calling them traitors. Telling them to just shut up and dance.

The hosts on WEEI (who I estimate to be about 99% Neocon, not counting those who identify themselves as "libertarian"*), wouldn't be doing their condescending little "pat on the head" acknowledgment of what a great man MLK was the way they begrudgingly do every MLK day--basically the same way a parent praises their toddler for drawing a not particularly good stick figure with crayon. No. They'd be rolling their eyes and smirking at the stupid annoying liberal moonbat. Or they'd be screaming what a traitor he was for opposing the war. Kirk Minihane would roll his eyes at the idea that someone could be hurt by racism, and proudly trumpet how he just laughs on the odd occasion when he hears a "cracker" joke (which I'm guessing has happened to him exactly never).

O'Brien in the booth the other day did his bland, vanilla acknowledgment to Ali's passing and what a great man he was. He did this with a straight face, as did the entire NESN staff when they made their requisite acknowledgments. (I think even Tom Werner made the requisite "He was a great man" comment in an on-field interview.) And then in the very next breath they go back to promoting the same mindless pro-war jingoism they always do--it never once occurring to them what a contradiction this is.

I'm reminded of George Orwell's "double-think." When you have a society in which almost no one actually thinks nor has any personal agency, inevitably you're going to get a lot of people espousing values and opinions that are completely at odds with one another. People "know" that you're supposed to "support the troops," and if you're against war, you hate America. And so that's what they stand for. And then the next day Muhammed Ali dies, and you get the entire country "mourning" him and praising him for representing the exact viewpoints they otherwise despise.

[*Note: The WEEI version of "libertarian" apparently means that you have all Neocon beliefs, with the exception of gay marriage. You're basically okay with gay marriage, but you're pro Neocon on everything else. That makes you a "libertarian." Basically, you're a Republican, but you call yourself something else so people don't yell at you.]


Maxwell Horse said...

Perhaps that last line should've said: "Basically, you're a Republican, but you call yourself something else so you can fancy yourself as cool."

Because honestly, who's going to get yelled at these days for being pro-war?

Unknown said...

Right on. Agree with you 100%. O'Brien is a good broadcaster, and understandably loyal to his son. But there's got to be more to a nation's character than flexing its muscle and looking the other way from the horrors and inevitable futility of war. I wish he could understand that and drop the need to continually talk up our "heroes".

laura k said...

MH, so true and so well said. No one in the conventional sports broadcasting/journalism world can speak about Ali truthfully, because that would mean acknowledging certain truths that they are obligated to ignore.

The sports world only reflects the larger culture. I am sick to death of MLK Day, with a feel-good, sanitized version of King. King did not espouse violence. OK, fine. But he espoused civil disobedience, he broke laws and urged others to do the same, he went to jail. He was anti-war and understood - and spoke about - the connections between imperialist wars and segregation and discrimination at home. And he was anti-capitalist, because he knew that capitalism causes inequality, injustice, and poverty.

But the King we see on MLK Day is just a guy who said "let's all love each other" and "play nice".

Zenslinger said...

Good points all 'round.