What Muhammad Ali Meant To Me And The Social Media Lessons We Can Learn From Him

That some title isn’t it? If you’re going to talk about the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, you need to have a title that’s fitting. The Champ is definitely in my top five favorite people that I never got to meet of all time. I’m going to tell you why.

Muhammad Ali Signature
Creative Commons License Mehmet Goroglu via Compfight

My dad came home from Vietnam in September 1970. At least that’s what I first saw him, because it turns out he had actually come back to the United States in July to have an operation on his shoulder. He showed up at the front door in September just as I was starting sixth grade. By December, we were packing everything up and moving from Kansas City, where I lived in a ghetto for the year he was gone, to Loring AFB in Limestone Maine, which was putting me in a drastically different environment that anything I had experienced before and anything I would experience after.

Basically, I had gone from a school that was all black except for one Mexican kid to a school on a military base in northern Maine that was the smallest school I’d ever go to with a mixed population that I had no idea how to deal with after what I’ve gone through in Kansas City.

The kids in Kansas City hated me because I had a better education than they ever would, and I also had a full school year where I had no classes because the school couldn’t take time trying to teach me when they had all those other kids to deal with. I went from that to suddenly being back among a population I should’ve been used to, but I wasn’t really ready for them. I also wasn’t used to being in classes and having to try to remember how to study and learn again.

I don’t know whether my dad planned it or whether it was something that just came to me because that’s how the family dynamic worked, but Dad started talking about a boxer named Muhammad Ali. He first mentioned Ali while we were still in Kansas City and he started talking about him more often because of an upcoming fight between him Joe Frazier, who I had absolutely no idea who he was at the time.

Dad talked about him in very positive ways, and in retrospect that was probably an amazing thing because Ali had basically just come off of 3 1/2 years outside of boxing because he’d refused to join the military and go to Vietnam, whereas my dad had joined the Army at age 17 and had been in both Vietnam and Korea. I started to see Ali on TV and understood why my dad liked him so much.

Kryptonite
Toru Okada via Compfight

It didn’t matter that the first fight I actually got to hear of his (back then big fights were on closed-circuit TV so you had to listen to the radio to find out what happened at the end of every round while the fight was happening) he happened to lose to Frazier. Actually, most of us thought he had won that fight because that was the narrative, and even after watching it years later there are a lot of us who thought Ali had actually won that fight even though he did get knocked down in the 15th round. What mattered to us is that he had taken a stand for a lot of things we thought were right, and he had so much charisma that it was hard to find things that we disagreed with him on enough for us to not like him.

One other thing that was very appealing was that he was not afraid of his blackness, which was a big deal to someone like me who was just getting ready to hit puberty and wasn’t sure how to deal with military kids who hadn’t been what I’ve been through in Kansas City. The strange thing is that even though the kids in KC hated me, I saw a lot of things that made a strong impact on my life. Along with discussions with my dad, these things got me to embrace the fact that I was a black kid in America and that I would have to try to be better than everyone else and have confidence in myself just to have a chance to compete for whatever I decided I wanted to do. That lesson turned out to be true.

Eventually we came to New York, and things were even stranger for me. I went from the smallest school system I’ve ever been in to the largest school system I’ve ever been in. Out of a school with around 3800 students there were fewer than 50 black students. Once again, the way I coped mentally with it most of the time was to rely on my thoughts of Muhammad Ali.

I did the same when I finally went to college and had an even less ratio of black to white when I first got there. Until my senior year of college, the only poster I ever had with a person in it on my wall was Muhammad Ali fighting Joe Frazier, and I tilted the poster so that Ali looked even bigger than he already was while fighting Frazier.

I started becoming more comfortable in my own skin at the beginning of my junior year of college, which was close to the time that Ali was close to leaving the profession of boxing. Normally when an athlete leaves their sport and you don’t see or hear of them as much, you start to move on to other people. Yet, Muhammad Ali was a different sort. He never went away, and even though he suffered from Parkinson’s disease he was still somehow in my life and the lives of others over the course of the next 36 years until he passed away last Friday night at age 74.

Just to get this out of the way, I mentioned my top five people that I never got to meet. Those five people are Roberto Clemente, Michael Jackson, Wilt Chamberlain, Frederick Douglass and Muhammad Ali. As often as I’ve written about Martin Luther King, Jr, he actually comes in at #6. 🙂

I’m not sure if I’ve properly explained why Muhammad Ali meant so much to me, and if you have questions you can ask me and I’ll try to explain it further.I figure that now it’s time for me to talk about Ali and some social media lessons that all of us can learn from his life.

Inspiration
Creative Commons License Exile on Ontario St via Compfight

1. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

There were two Muhammad Ali’s.

The first was the showman, the huckster, the guy who built up the product so much that it drew in lots of people. Many of those people wanted to see him get his comeuppance, but he didn’t care about that. He was the first million dollar fighter because he knew how to capture people’s attention.

If I own up to failing at anything as it regards social media, it’s that I’m not willing to push the envelope as far as needed to get publicity. I’ve always hoped that my writing would eventually carry me to great heights in the world of blogging but after all these years I’m realizing that I’m nowhere close to where I want to be because the overwhelming majority of people who write about people who know something about blogging don’t know who I am.

Most people say the money is in the list. Truthfully, the money is in influence more than the list. That’s what Ali had while he was boxing, and it carried over into his retirement. If you knew how many times he used his popularity in the world to save or help someone, as well as to raise money for charity, you couldn’t come close to being impressed enough.

2. Be your authentic self

The second Muhammad Ali was the guy totally comfortable in his skin and in his convictions. Hate him or not, when he latched onto an idea he was willing to take his chances with whatever came up, no matter whether it impacted his life positively or negatively.

In that regard, becoming the first major athlete to declare his transference to Islam was a big deal in his day. He went from beloved to hated within 24 hours, but he didn’t care. Years later when he decided he wasn’t participating in the war and not taking the oath to be drafted, he was not only hated even more than before but he lost his career and livelihood and almost went to jail for it.

Over the course of his years he might have said some controversial things, some he was correct on and others he wasn’t, but in the moment he truly believed in each and every thing he said and was willing to deal with the consequences of it all. Isn’t that what I was talking about last week when I referred to freedom of speech?

3. If you’re authentic, people will embrace you if you change your mind.

I mentioned Ali saying some controversial things. Let’s get some of that out of the way:


https://youtu.be/HqiWFLsgVi4

During my formative years, it seemed that everything Ali said about race was absolutely correct. He said some negative things about Jewish people that didn’t mean anything to me because I didn’t even know what a Jewish person was until I was in college. He had some thoughts about women that I never heard at the time either but those beliefs all turned out to be wrong as well.

The first thing is that he was authentic in his beliefs. He really thought these things and believed them with all his heart. However, once his boxing career was on the wane, the Nation of Islam stopped having such a hold on him, and he started reading the Koran for himself and his most extreme views went away, just like they did for Malcolm X. The Ali I really started to admire was the one who talked about love, respect for all religions, people getting along together, and taking active steps to show how his beliefs changed instead of just talking about them.

There have been a few writers this weekend who tried to talk about the “bad Ali”, the one who said all those things. Those few voices have been drowned out by the very people he used to condemn as being evil because they saw the metamorphosis in the man and all the good he did.

This is a great lesson for all of us to remember. If we’re authentic we might have people who dislike us every once in a while but at least we’re being honest. We’re also not trying to hurt anyone because Ali never meant to hurt anyone; he was trying to uplift a people he truly felt was subjugating itself, which is something I do here and there on my business blog. When he learned different lessons, he didn’t just soften his words and beliefs but tossed them out for a better life and a better world, and he brought others along with him.

This is my tribute to Muhammad Ali, a man I wish I could have thanked for helping me get through a tough part of my life. I’m glad he’s finally at physical peace as he already was mentally. There will never be another like him.
 

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My Thoughts On Joe Frazier

I hated Joe Frazier.

It was 1971, and I knew that Muhammad Ali was going to be fighting Joe Frazier. Ali was one of my idols; he’s still one of my idols. I was 11 years old, had just moved to a new place 3 months earlier and was struggling to get used to it, and one of my heroes was going to prove that he’d been wronged by so many people years earlier. I didn’t know as much about that, but I did know that Ali was my guy; he was my dad’s guy as well.

Back then I had a couple of transistor radios, and I listened to the play-by-play of the fight from New York City. What would happen is that you’d listen to a lot of talk, then after the round was over someone would tell you what happened and give you his opinion on who won the round. Early on it was all Ali, and I was ecstatic. Then things seemed to have changed, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then I heard the news – Frazier knocks Ali down in the 15th and wins the decision.

I was bitter. A year later they put the fight on ABC and I thought Ali had won, I hated Frazier that much. But it was what it was, and I knew Ali would get him back.

However, there was this little matter of Frazier – Foreman, and as I saw that fith I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Foreman actually looked like he lifted Frazier off the ground; it was frightening. That day I felt sorry for Frazier, scared for Ali because I knew he’d be getting his shot against Foreman, and I was confused.

Then Ali and Frazier fought again, and it was a tough battle that saw Ali win. Then Ali goes and beats Foreman and it was time for the Thrilla in Manila. My support for Ali couldn’t be questioned; the “Gorilla”, as Ali had named Frazier, had to go down. I was lucky to have HBO in 1976 and we got to watch the fight live. What an epic battle, ranked as one of the top fights in history, and Ali won in 14 after Frazier’s corner refused to let him come out for the last round.

At the end of that fight I was elated for Ali but had a new appreciation for Joe Frazier. This man, who never weighed more than 208 pounds for any of his fights, had shown a lot of dignity, even in his 4 losses, two to Ali and two to Foreman. He wasn’t a bad man; not at all. Back then, there were all these social issues that always surrounded Ali, and Frazier got caught up in them. I saw him as a decent man, and couldn’t hate him anymore.

Over the years after he finally retired I saw a guy fighting to find some dignity because of the taunting that Ali had put him through. I learned of all the help Frazier gave Ali and how he always felt betrayed by Ali. He never could figure out that without Ali their fights might not have gotten as much interest and money as they did. I felt bad for that but I also recognized how hurtful it had to be for a black man to have another black man relate him to a gorilla; I wouldn’t have liked that either.

Joe Frazier passed away a couple of days ago of liver cancer. Like the dignified guy he always had been, word didn’t get out until he was in hospice, and he wasn’t there long. People said they’d give him their liver, but of course it doesn’t work that way. Just like that Frazier was gone at age 67. Muhammad Ali said this: “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.”

Joe Frazier earned a lot more respect in retirement than he did during his boxing career, and in retrospect that’s a shame. But that’s what the 70’s were like. And now we’re dealing with the 2010’s. And we’ve lost a good guy; best to you Joe.
 

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100 Greatest Sports Movies?

Y’all know that I like list posts; truthfully, who doesn’t? Many of them leave us having great debates, although I’ll admit that I wasn’t really expecting much debate when I wrote my opera post. Be that as it may, when we know what the topic is, we love debating it, and I think there should be a few people around ready to talk about this one.


Baseball Night In America
by J. Ryan Wall

Only it’s not my list. I got this list from a site called the Bleacher Report, which writes only about sports stuff, and they got together and put out what they called The 100 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time. It’s an interesting list, especially because some of the movies aren’t sports related at all; what the hey? Still, they’ve got a list, and it was pretty ambitious. Way more ambitious than I’m ready to be, so I’m only going to comment on their top ten; this isn’t going to be pretty.

No. 10: Slapshot – this is a movie about a rogue minor league hockey team, and you’d think I would like it more because it was filmed right here in Syracuse. But it was filmed before I got here, and even with Paul Newman it just got on my nerves.

No. 9: Hoop Dreams – this was actually a documentary that followed two kids for many years that had dreams of becoming professional basketball players; no, they didn’t make it. Roger Ebert really loved this movie; once again, I didn’t get into it.

No. 8: Caddyshack – one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, even if it was surrounding golf, a sport I don’t like all that much except for Tiger Woods (now don’t start with me). It had Rodney Dangerfield in one of his best performances and Chevy Chase and Bill Murray at a time when not only were both at the top of their game, but they had to bury the hatchet to make this movie together. And it had the gopher; ’nuff said.

No. 7: The Natural – one of my favorite movies of all time; if I’m turning the channels and it’s on I stop what I’m doing and watch it until it’s over. It’s a baseball movie about a guy who gets derailed as a young player and comes back many years later and shows everyone he’s a star, only because they didn’t have 24/7 access to TV or sports back then no one remembers who he was. This is a beautiful movie, start Robert Redford, and you’ll love it whether you like sports or not.

No. 6: Rocky – I’m actually surprised this was so low on their list. Like everyone else, I had no idea who Sylvester Stallone was, but I knew who Burgess Meredith was, though I only knew him as the Penguin from Batman; now that’s a shame! There can’t be anyone who has no clue who Rocky is, so I’ll just leave it with this: “Adrian!!!”

No. 5: Bull Durham – I liked this movie, but for the life of me I really can’t figure out why so many sports guys think it’s so great. Sure, it had Kevin Costner before he started irritating all of us, along with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (who hooked up and lived 19 years or so with each other), but as a baseball movie I keep thinking there were better performances, or at least other movies that touched or entertained me more.

No. 4: Rudy – never saw this one, and I haven’t been compelled either. I just know it’s the supposedly true story of a team manager for Notre Dame that got to play in a game; maybe someone else can enlighten me and tell me why I need to see this.

No. 3: Raging Bull – now this is what I’m talking about. A movie about the one time middleweight champion of the world Jake LaMotta, it was one of the best performances by any actor in history, and in this case it was Robert DeNiro. He had to first get into great shape for the boxing scenes, then gain more than 60 pounds to play the same character as an older guy; it was the first time any actor did that. And it was filmed in black and white; great stuff. The funny thing is that the real Vicki LaMotta was prettier than the actress who played her; that rarely happens.

No. 2: Field Of Dreams – another baseball movie, and once again one that has never really captured me; my favorite baseball movie, very apparent now, is The Natural. But almost everyone knows this line, even if they don’t remember it came from this movie: “If you build it, they will come.” Another Kevin Costner movie.

No. 1: Hoosiers – Gene Hackman won an Oscar for this movie as best actor, and that’s about the only thing I know about it because I never saw it. It’s about a small town high school basketball team in Indiana that ends up winning the state title. That’s all I’ve got.

Anyway, that’s my commentary on someone else’s list. Of course you know that within the next couple of months I’ll be putting together my own list of top whatever number of sports movies I determine I need. And you can bet my top 10 list will have some “real” football movies on it; yeah I said it!

The Natural



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