And then, I go online and find out that Muhammad Ali has died.
And apart from thinking, “Jesus, not another one” and shaking my fist in the general direction of 2016, I find myself looking back and realising the effect Ali had on me as a kid.
I grew up in the 1970s, so a lot of my childhood icons are ripe for passing away now. But surely there was no greater, more iconic, more important man than Cassius Clay.
I’m not a big fan of boxing. But Ali transcended not just boxing, but sport itself. Yes, he was a great boxer, but more importantly, he was a great man.
Here’s his boxing record:
|Wins by KO||37|
Not too shoddy, right?
I grew up in quite an insular, secular part of Middle England, where there were very few people of colour. I can remember maybe two from my school.
But the one black man who was regularly on my TV was Muhammad Ali.
If he wasn’t fighting, he was on the Parkinson show.
And, aside from the fact he was a bloody amazing and entertaining boxer, he was witty, articulate, erudite, smart, and despite his profession, a pacifist, refusing to enter the armed forces stating: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape or kill my mother and father…. How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
In short, he was quite the polar opposite of how black people were generally portrayed – on the rare occasion they were portrayed at all – in the media at the time.
Muhammad Ali taught me, and I can never thank him enough.
Donald Trump, take note. He changed his name to Muhammad. You would have it that this man never set foot in your country, let alone became one of the most loved and respected sportsmen of my, or any, generation.
Here’s something I have shamefully stolen from Wikipedia, 11 quotes (I thought 11 was an odd number, but I can’t pick one to trim to make it a more tangible 10) from the great man himself:
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
“Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe”
“Go to college, stay in school. If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”
“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating”
“Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.”
“I may not talk perfect white talk-type English but I give you wisdom”
“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
“Allah is the Greatest. I’m just the greatest boxer.”
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”
“The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth”
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see”
Which leads me on to a couple of utterly predictable tunes: