I spent a lot of time in a mild funk last week, mostly because of the news of the death of Muhammad Ali.
Strange, isn’t it? But it wasn’t his actual death that caused my melancholy, but the ripples it causes, and the subsequent meanings of it.
Ali was, to my mind, not just the greatest boxer of all time, but also one of, if not the, greatest sports figure of all time.
His grace in the ring was unmatched; I can’t remember where I heard it, but Ali took what is normally a brutal sport and elevated it into an art form. Ali fights on television were appointment viewings.
But he was much more than the sports icon; he also was an eloquent man out of ring, and stood up for his rights and beliefs with equal fervor as his fights against his opponents.
He also epitomized tenacity, endurance and drive, regaining the heavyweight title again and again.
Even in his battle with Parkinson’s Syndrome, you could see in his eyes the determination that he would never willingly succumb to the disease, that he one day would come out of his patented Rope-A-Dope hale and whole.
It was a pleasure just knowing that someone like that was around, someone that could be a role model for any and everyone. His jousting with Howard Cosell never failed to put smiles on faces, either.
It was a life well-lived, and I know I’m the better for having watched it.
But that’s not why I ended up morose; it was because with the passing of such a man, a legend, it was becoming more and more evident that there are fewer people with that kind of heart, that kind of makeup, that try to live up to their potential, and by doing so, inspire a new generation of people to strive for success.
We’ve lost so many people recently who we looked up to for their dedication, passion, heart and soul, and looking around, I can’t really think of who could replace someone like Ali. I quit watching the sport because it has degenerated into a bloodbath, spurred on by the likes of Mike Tyson, who in essence was simply a thug.
People like Prince and David Bowie, songwriters and musicians who blazed trails and opened doors for so many acts, have been followed by the likes of the saccharine Justin Bieber; One Direction, a boy band that had to take a break from work after a few years because they got tired; or Lil Wayne, whose current claim to fame isn’t his music, but commercials of him spending his waking hours pouring champagne on cell phones (I will give props to Common, who has said recently that before casting blame on others, look to your own house).
Billie Jean King fought sexism and bigotry in the tennis world. Maria Sharapova recently was banned for two years because she was using performance-enhancing drugs.
Arthur Ashe fought racism with grace and excellent tennis play, only to make room for fools like John McEnroe to throw temper tantrums over judgment calls; Johnny Unitas was a quiet, solid field general on the football field, and Tom Brady deflates footballs; Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, as well as standing records, in baseball, and Manny Machado and Yordano Ventura throw punches instead of baseballs.
There’s an awful short supply of up-and-coming idols in — and out — of sports. Here’s hoping that we start seeing more icons like Muhammad Ali, who by their actions task us all to become the best that we can be, to live up to our potential, to become great.
And thanks, Mr. Clay, for letting me see what character truly is.