Muhammad Ali, far from being pugilistic with the pugnacious Trump, gently called on all US politicians to distinguish between a fringe of misguided extremists and the actual teachings of Islam, which Mr. Ali saw as uniting humankind in love. In the end, the man who was known for boasting about how hard he could hit demonstrated that he wasn’t interested in childish polemics. He conceded the problem of extremism, but asked for understanding of the mainstream Muslim tradition of 1.5 billion human beings.The Greatest has passed. Only Jackie Robinson comes close to approaching Ali's legacy as a principled sportsman whose influence reached far beyond the sport at which he excelled.
Ali was the first subject of the first project I can remember doing in elementary school. We were asked to show one of our heroes, so I made a collage magazine and newspaper clippings about Ali, this was in the mid-70s, when he was both the famous sportsman in the world, and -- in some circles -- the most reviled. I was a skinny, poor, intensely shy white kid and Ali was everything I wanted to be: eloquent, principled, defiant, courageous, supremely talented, hard-working ... and, as he would say, pretty. While I had, and have, nothing but love and respect for my uncles who fought in Vietnam, Ali is no less a hero for the stand he took against the war.
We need more Muhammad Alis. Big Papi always makes me smile; the UConn men's and women's basketball programs have produced scores of players I admire and watch every chance I get; Pedro Martinez and Ted Williams still inspire me; but none of them are Ali. None have had the impact on the world outside of sport that Ali had.
Baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and the world, need a gay Ali, an atheist Ali, a socialist Ali, a feminist Ali. I keep hoping someone like a Tom Brady will step up, a Steph Curry, a Big Papi ... but for the good those guys do through charitable works, and I'm sure they do a lot, we are already united in wanting to cure childhood cancer. The world needs a bucket of cold water over the head to wake up to the fact judges letting privileged white kids who rape off easy is the worst kind of institutional misogyny and white supremacy, to wake up to the fact perpetual war and empire can be ended, and we can be just and humane with each other. We need, as the kids say, to get woke.
We need another Muhammad Ali.