Hodge: Legend of Ali became bigger than his life

The butterfly may have stopped dancing, but no one will fully forget the sting of the bee.

Charlie HodgeAs a verbal species, humans have the propensity to sometimes be overly verbose in our comments and conversations.

We make mountains out of molehills and often overstate the obvious.

We tend to toss out excessive praise or criticism using grandiose terminology often more flamboyant than needed or called for.

Such lofty praise is often reserved for heroes or superstars in our world i.e. entertainers, athletes, politicians, etc.

But earlier this week, the world truly lost a ‘great’ individual.

Muhammad Ali, viewed by so many for so long as nearly immortal, slipped quietly away from health complications.

Without question, Ali will go down in history as one of the most recognized characters of all time.

No matter your nationality, religion, political persuasion, love or lack for sports, or even interest in world affairs, all of us knew who Muhammad Ali was.

Some idolized the man, others found him to be an annoying braggart.

Regardless of his demeanor or personality, there was no questioning his brilliant skill in the boxing ring.

If any athlete earned the term ‘great,’ it was Ali.

Wayne Gretzky will long be known as ‘The Great One,’ but when it comes to the term ‘The Greatest,’ it is the boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, who pops into everyone’s mind.

Quite likely the greatest athlete in modern times, Ali not only dazzled the ring but the world.

One day at age 13, the young street kid from the gloomy ghettos of his hometown ran into a local boxing gym while seeking shelter from some street bullies.

The owner of the facility decided to take the gangly Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, under his wing and teach him to fight back. The rest, as they say, is history.

Clay not only went on to win Olympic medals, but soon dominated the heavyweight boxing world taking on any and all comers.

His powerful punches, incredible stamina, and free-flowing form caught the attention of many fans while catching many opponents off guard and unprepared.

A devastating hook and a stinging jab combined with fancy yet effective footwork became trademarks of the man who would eventually travel the world and rule it with his fighting skills.

Throughout his career, Ali faced some of the greatest boxers of all time. While he may not have won every fight, there was never any question that his opponent paid a heavy price.

However, what made Ali able to call himself the greatest was not just his skill in the ring, but also the impact he had on the world around him.

Few athletes, politicians, entertainers etc., have influenced not only their own race but people around the world on the same level as Ali.

Certainly few African-Americans inspired the level of hope, pride and determination to succeed for their people, nor brought to the public eye their plight, problems, or opinions.

Many of the incidents that made Ali well recognized around the world overlapped racial differences or religious purposes.

When Ali said no to fighting in the war in Vietnam he was stripped of his rights, tossed out of the ring, denied his profession and branded a criminal.

Despite that, however, Ali continued to maintain his convictions, seeking every opportunity to speak against the injustice and lack of logic behind the Vietnam War. His defiance inspired others to do likewise, to stand up and say no.

Ironically it was because of his dynamic nature, quick wit, and vibrant personality that he would have such impact on public opinion.

His initial military psychological evaluations had ruled that Ali was considered ‘not smart enough or bright enough’ to be drafted into the Army and carry a gun.

As his popularity grew in the black community amidst the turbulent civil rights era of the ‘60s in the U.S., his initial psychological evaluation was ignored as Ali was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war.

But Ali would not go.

Some say it was his biggest and best fight, one that ultimately led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in his favour, recognizing his right to object to being drafted based on his Muslim religious beliefs, that led to a resumption of his boxing career.

In the years that followed in the ring, Ali’s showmanship and bravado never faltered, even as his career finally did.

Despite facing Parkinson’s disease after retiring from boxing, Ali continued to champion various social and human rights causes. His continuous and relentless desire to stand up against bullying, racism and injustice were held in high esteem around the world.

In the end, it was Ali’s words and compassion that made him a real champion. When his fists stopped talking his heart never did. For that, he will always be remembered as ‘The Greatest.’

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