Greensboro's African American Community Newspaper since 1967

Ali was a disappointment to me



Now that the White celebrations in memory of Muhammad Ali have passed, I feel I can write some truths. Muhammad Ali was a major disappointment for me, personally. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy. I thought he was the greatest fighter ever and not just in the boxing ring. He stood up for what he believed at a time when people of color were expected to remain quiet and obedient. At the time of his emergence I thought, “Finally, a Black man with a platform who can stand up and tell the truth and no one can touch him.” That is why I am so disappointed. That is why it hurt so much to see him at the end feeble minded and co-opted by the White culture.

On two levels I was deeply disappointed. First, I thought, here was a Black athlete that was not beholden to the slave owner bosses. He was a great athlete and appeared to be smart, maybe not book smart but intelligent. I thought he could be THE Black athlete to shine bright then step away from his sport, rich, successful and able to continue a life of fulfillment and maybe even help create change for all people of color.

But he wasn’t. He kept fighting way past when he should’ve stopped. It is well known, now, that he fought his last couple of fights because he needed the money. And he fought those fights already showing the early signs of his dementia. Yet, there he was a sad representation of his past self. He was another Black man beaten down by the system.

They say he had Parkinson’s disease and maybe he did. But he looked like an awful lot of “punch drunk” fighters I knew from my youth. It crushed me to see him that way.

But what bothers me the most about Ali was how White America treated him.

When he was Cassius Clay and won a light heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics, White America cheered their favorite son. But when he returned home to Louisville he quickly discovered he was just another poor Black boy having trouble finding a job.

This didn’t deter him. He trained hard and we all know he took the world heavy-weight title from Sonny Liston. Younger people may not realize it but at that time Sonny Liston was the baddest man on earth. He was Mike Tyson and George Formen combined. People feared him in and out of the ring. But Ali was faster, quicker, smarter. He out boxed, out punched and beat Liston. America went wild with this underdog victory.

But the very next day Cassius told the press and America, “Don’t call me Cassius Clay. My name is Muhammad Ali.” And, by the miracle magic of White People grapevine, instantly Ali was the enemy.

Most White people equated Black Muslims with Black Panthers. And they all feared the Black Panthers so they decided they should also fear Black Muslims. Ali became a hated Black man. And he was persecuted for it. There is no way an obedient Cassius Clay would have ever been drafted or forced to make a decision about Vietnam. But an angry Black Muslim who was not afraid to denounce racism, there was no way White society was going to tolerate that.

Ali fought the system and eventually won. But he lost three years during the prime of his athletic life. And, even though he was able to regain the title he paid a heavy price.

When Ali was retired and began to openly show the signs of his mental decay he could no longer speak his mind. He no longer posed a threat. And, then he gradually became an American hero. He was honored by White society; he was even chosen to carry the Olympic torch.

In the waning years of his life, I saw him trotted out on many occasions where White people wanted to show how liberal and accepting they were. It pissed me off. Where were all these White admirers when Ali was being banned from working his trade? Or, when he objected to a war we all came to realize was a horrible mistake.

When Muhammad Ali served the wealth and desires of White America he was revered. When he stood up and objected to the abuse people of color absorb he was vilified. And, when he was feeble, disabled and no longer a threat he was once again honored and held in high esteem.

It angers me. I am disappointed with Ali. Like every other selfish person I wanted him to be more, to be the one to help fight my battles. When I saw how someone as gifted and powerful as Muhammad Ali got taken down then paraded around it made it seem almost impossible to believe things could ever change.

I am not disappointed in Ali the man. He will always be a champion in my book. I am just disappointed that even “The Greatest” could not prevail over, or even survive, the power and control of White America.

Gabriel A. Fraire is the copy editor of the Carolina Peacemaker. He has been a writer more than 45 years and can reached through his Web site: