Watching the coverage about the death of Muhammad Ali over the last week or so, I have had many thoughts pass through my mind. It occurs to me that most of today's young people have no idea just what he meant to people of my generation.
was born a few years after him, so I was old enough to be aware of his
winning Gold at the 1960 Olympics, and I recall seeing his rise through
the ranks of professional heavy weights, leading up to his fight with
Sonny Liston. Sonny Liston was not the most popular of champions, you
understand, but he was the champ. Many people were offended by the
brash young man from Louisville, especially the older generation.
do not want to claim that we who were coming of age in the 60's were
already "enlightened" or yet into the "flower power" attitude that
represented hippiedom, but I like to think that we were a bit more open
minded than were our parents. I remember the night that Cassius Clay
beat Sonny Liston, and find my thoughts going over that night of late.
25, 1964, was a Tuesday, and the outcome of that fight was much
discussed by just about everyone I knew. I was a senior in high school
at the time, at the greatest high school you've never heard of (OK, if
you have ever read my blog, then you have heard of Stadium High School,
in Tacoma, Washington). Being a senior means that I was very self
centered, and had no time for much awareness outside my own tiny world.
we were impressed with the apparent bravado demonstrated by the young
Cassius Clay, and - I believe - we were quick to realize that it was not
entirely bravado or braggadocio behavior, as he backed up all of his
big words. Maybe we identified with him, to an extent, because he was
not much older than we were.
our attitude towards him, I do know that, over time, we came to accept
his brash predictions and his - to some - arrogant behavior simply
because he did indeed accomplish those things that he said he would
accomplish. And, with the rest of the world, we all moved into his
think it is obvious that we all became enamored of this great man more
after his fighting career ended, and his public life continued to set
standards for all. I could never hope to have to words to express just
how big his impact has been on the world, and I certainly could not hope
to even echo the great eulogy delivered by Billy Crystal at his
funeral, but whatever I fail to say here, consider my feelings to be the
same as Billy Crystal's, and let me just say that he spoke for me, just
as Ali spoke for millions, and for generations to come.
Here's Billy Crystal's speech: