My husband, who shares my love of Muhammad Ali, had to leave the house before I was awake this morning. He left me a note on my coffee cup:
“Muhammad Ali Passed”
He knew I would want to know it from him, not stumbling on it when I sat down at my computer to read the day’s news.
The remarkable video and print profiles of Ali’s life on the NYT site and the enormous coverage in the newspaper is great work by Robert Lipsyte and others. It captures the un-capture-able – a beautiful, brutal, brave, deeply flawed man who refused to be scripted by anyone’s idea of what a black man, an athlete, a celebrity, a Muslim, an American, should be.
I don’t know when I first became fascinated by boxing, but I remember when my interest in this dirty sport stopped seeming odd for a young girl – Ali’s fame made for some very strange allies.
My hero worship met with approval at home. His decision to reject his birth name, Cassius Clay, and his stand against the Vietnam War in which he refused to fight, were fine by my white mother, a transplanted Southerner who cheered anyone who trampled Jim Crow, and anyone who spoke against what she believed was a senseless war. My father thought Ali was a loudmouth who moved like a ballet dancer. If he was around, I watched Ali with the sound off.
Ali’s last years were hard to watch; Ali’s health was ruined by the sport that gave him fame. But unlike many other ravaged athletes, it is never sad to look back at the photos of him in his prime. It feels like a privilege.
Rest in Peace, Champ.