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What have you told your children about Muhammad Ali?
November 27, 2005 2:08 PM   Subscribe

What have you told your children about Muhammad Ali? "I was frequently left with tingling all over because I had been in the presence of such a great man and still humbled by his compassion, tolerance and understanding." Inspired by this weekend's airing by ESPN Classic of most of Tyson's fights, I started thinking about the difference between these two men. Ali obviously transcended his sport and has become more than just a boxer while Tyson is clearly a lost and troubled soul. And yet Tyson's story still inspires reflection. Nietzche's statement that "What someone is, begins to be revealed when his talent abates, when he stops showing us what he can do" is perfectly illustrated by the twilight years of these two legendary boxers.
posted by spicynuts (47 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I also thought it was pretty cool that Joyce Carol Oates wrote numerous times about Tyson and about Boxing in general.
posted by spicynuts at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2005


The non-Ali, non-Tyson, non-heavyweight boxing scene is unbelievable these days.
posted by phaedon at 2:22 PM on November 27, 2005


Yeah, I know, but until some of them become legendary, they are just boxers. There's no personality to talk about. Yet.
posted by spicynuts at 2:24 PM on November 27, 2005


boxing's been good to me, howard
posted by wakko at 2:27 PM on November 27, 2005


This Halloween, a child asked me if I was dressed as Muhammad Ali.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:48 PM on November 27, 2005


spicynuts -
Bernard Hopkins? Marco Antonio Barrera? Erik Morales?
There's some legendary-ness and personality there.

But they aren't known outside of the boxing world the way Ali (and Tyson) were because 1) they are not heavyweights, and few non-heavyweights since the days of Sugar Ray Leonard ever become cross-over stars, which is in part a function of 2) not many people give a fuck about boxing anymore anyway.

Moonpie- Heh.
posted by papakwanz at 2:53 PM on November 27, 2005


or maybe spicynuts was referring more to the up n comers rather than the on the way outers, in which case I agree.
posted by papakwanz at 2:54 PM on November 27, 2005


or maybe spicynuts was referring more to the up n comers rather than the on the way outers, in which case I agree.

Your initial comment said "these days", which is what I was referring to. There are no boxers these days that are approaching cultural iconography, outside of De La Hoya, who I think burned his 15 minutes more than a few years ago. I think Mr.MoonPie's comment perfectly illustrates that. No child is going to ask if you are dressed as Bernard Hopkins. There is no mythology yet for any of these boxers that spreads outside the ring. It would be nice to see another Sugar Ray, though - someone with all the talent inside and outside the ring.
posted by spicynuts at 3:12 PM on November 27, 2005


Mike Tyson is the single most interesting, most "literary" figure in popular life today. You could not invent this guy. He is more complex and reflective than most of his critics. He is not only living inside Mike Tyson, he is aware that he is living inside Mike Tyson. And the world he sees through those little eyes must be incredibly grotesque as it acts out what it thinks the world's toughest man wants to see. Prepare to hear more about Mike as King Kong hits the theaters.
posted by Faze at 3:29 PM on November 27, 2005


What have you told your children about Muhammad Ali?

I don't have any children. And if I did, I probably wouldn't say much about him.
posted by grouse at 3:33 PM on November 27, 2005


A photog friend of mine shoots stuff for TV and cable. He's met a lot of stars, talked with hundreds and hundreds of celebrities. When I asked him which famous person he was most amazed at meeting, he said without even a second of reflection, "Definately Muhammad Ali." Even in his aged and crippled state, the man instantly commanded the attention of everyone in his presence. I could probably go out to a restaurant and be oblivious that Mike Tyson was eating a few booths away. The same could not be said for Muhammad Ali.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:37 PM on November 27, 2005


Ali obviously transcended his sport and has become more than just a boxer

Yes, he became the poster child for dementia pugilistica. Wonderful.

What gets me about this whole thing is that the media loves to point out that Ali has Parkinson disease - just as if his parkinsonian syndrome were the same as the guy down the block who developed idiopathic Parkinson disease after a head-trauma-free life.

His syndrome is not idiopathic PD. It's dementia pugilistica. It's a well-known consequence of repeated traumatic head injury. But no one cares, because boxing makes such great TV.

No one cares or directs any attention to the fact that a strong, smart, articulate black man was transformed into a walking vegetable by a bloodthirsty, inhumane form of gladiatorial combat that disproportionately attracts poor minority men. It should have been outlawed years ago.

This really bothers me, as a neurologist and as a human being.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:38 PM on November 27, 2005


Yes, he became the poster child for dementia pugilistica. Wonderful.

I tend to think that he will remembered much more for what he did as a black man at the height of his fame than for what his sport did to him. And what opportunity would he have had to spread his message if boxing had not been his avenue to greatness?

There is plenty to debate in his life, as has been seen in other threads about him. Some people think he was a coward for draft dodging. Some people see him as a symbol and an illustration of the brutality and inhumanity of boxing. This complexity, as well as the issues of Tyson's life, are precisely why I post about him.
posted by spicynuts at 3:51 PM on November 27, 2005


What have you told your children about Muhammad Ali?

That he was The Greatest Of All Time, a God who walked among us as a man.
posted by jonmc at 3:58 PM on November 27, 2005


he will remembered much more for what he did as a black man at the height of his fame

And the hero worship in which he was held by many young whites (including tyke-jonmc back in the 70's) did a lot to help make racism seem stupid in our minds. Something to remember.
posted by jonmc at 4:00 PM on November 27, 2005


I consider Ali to be one of the greatest human beings to have ever lived. When I have kids, there will be scores of documentaries to show them all about how remarkable he was as a boxer and as a man.

Then I'll set them aside and say: Outside of all of that, he also cheated on his wife, and once called Joe Fraser an Uncle Tom despite the fact that Joe Fraser gave him room and board when no one would put him in a ring or give him any money because he wouldn't fight in Viet Nam.
posted by shmegegge at 4:08 PM on November 27, 2005


Frazier, shmegge. with a Z. And the correct way to address the man is as Smokin' Joe Frazier. ;>

Yeah, Ali was a long way from perfect in his persoanl life, but so are all of us, but few other people (maybe Elvis Presley and JFK) cut as swashbuckling figure across the cultural landscape of their time.
posted by jonmc at 4:12 PM on November 27, 2005


gladiatorial combat that disproportionately attracts poor minority men. It should have been outlawed years ago.

I've been thinking about this. What do you think those poor minorty men would say about boxing being outlawed? Do you think Ali, given the choice, would pick obscurity and the life of the wage slave in exchange for not being stricken with dementia pugilistica? Would George Foreman pick obscurity and poverty over the chance to flood the world with his grills? Would the world be better off without all those grills if Foreman had never been given a chance to box? And what about people like Jack Johnson who probably gave many poor blacks a glimmer of hope, or at least a symbol of some measure of triumph over persecution and racism?
posted by spicynuts at 4:23 PM on November 27, 2005


gladiatorial combat that disproportionately attracts poor minority men. It should have been outlawed years ago.

Boom-Boom Mancini, a boxer who once killed a man in the ring (so I imagine he's wrestled with the dilemmas of the sport more than most) once compared it to a gladiator battle, but declared that a noble thing. There's more to boxing than simple brute strength; it's about agility, cunning, endurance, and psychological warfare (Ali had most of his fights won before he stepped in the ring).

And what about people like Jack Johnson who probably gave many poor blacks a glimmer of hope,

Not just black folks either. The ascent of world champions has often been a harbinger of an ethic groups ascent, look at John L. Sullivan and Rocky Marciano.
posted by jonmc at 4:33 PM on November 27, 2005


Ali is the hero, but both these men were boxers. Mike Tyson endured a vicious upbringing and was a vicious person with no capacity for wit or public relations which is why he never "transcended his sport" or "became more than a boxer."

Mike Tyson is also way more than a boxer. He is a schizophrenic, a rapist, bankrupt, a maniac...so quit with the empty eulogising. You "started thinking about the difference between these two men," so why not post the conclusions?

"I will sit my kids down and explain that Ali called Joe Frasier an Uncle Tom." Whoopee. I hope they will thank you for that lesson then go and download Tyson tearing Holyfields ear off from Kazaa.
posted by fire&wings at 4:46 PM on November 27, 2005


spicynuts: There is no mythology yet for any of these boxers that spreads outside the ring.

Like I said, not many people give a shit about boxing at all anymore.
posted by papakwanz at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2005


Mike Tyson is also way more than a boxer. He is a schizophrenic, a rapist, bankrupt, a maniac...so quit with the empty eulogising. You "started thinking about the difference between these two men," so why not post the conclusions?

Hey tough guy if you bothered to click on the links you'd see that I linked to a timeline of Mike's melt down, including his crimes and bankruptcy. I also linked to an essay by Joyce Carol Oates about the same meltdown. And, I don't remember eulogizing Tyson.
posted by spicynuts at 4:49 PM on November 27, 2005


Fuck it, I'll do the work for you. Here is the link. The first line of the page says:

"Sociopathic heavyweight boxer"

So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
posted by spicynuts at 4:51 PM on November 27, 2005


Mike Tyson is the single most interesting, most "literary" figure in popular life today.

I've never seen Iron Mike quite that way -- he's about as interesting as the guy down the street who the parole department scoops up monthly. Tyson was, is, and always will be a thug.

Years back when he was just starting with Cus I spent some time in a friends Albany bar. Chuck was a Tryon Boys School teacher, someone intimately familiar with Tyson. Tyson spent half his late teen years wandering into the joint where he would be informed he wasn't old enough to get served, at which point he decided he would fight the bouncers. All of them. At once. Even Mike got his ass kicked on a regular basis -- this was before he had a posse -- strength in numbers and all.

Later on, when he got some celebrity cred and gathered a few hangers on, he graduated to winning fights at bigger clubs -- at least when he wasn't busy groping women at the mall.

Mike Tyson is a violent punk who along with being dumb as a box of rocks managed, with a boatload of help, to develop a modicum of skill in a very difficult sport. If he hadn't been taken under the wing of a great teacher who truly loved him, Mike Tyson would have spent his life enforcing on the street until someone shot his sorry ass.

Tyson is someone who has squandered more chances at life than most of us will ever get. Those who find him interesting in any way other than one finds a sideshow geek interesting, probably are the same people who glorify thug life, bling and the culture of drugs and violence that has destroyed countless young men.
posted by cedar at 4:57 PM on November 27, 2005


Mike Tyson is a violent punk who along with being dumb as a box of rocks managed, with a boatload of help, to develop a modicum of skill in a very difficult sport.

And most of his fights were against tomato cans. Once he started facing guys with some finesse like Holyfeild et al, he lost his momentum. I celebrated when I watched Buster Douglas beat him.

For a far more interesting fighter, check out the story of Emile Griffith.
posted by jonmc at 5:03 PM on November 27, 2005


spicynuts: I didn't accuse you of eulogising Tyson, you eulogised Ali. If I didn't make it clear: it's easy to eulogise Ali, and the cliches about Ali apply to Tyson. Grow some balls and lets hear the difference between them, if you have an opinion on that and it wasn't just a lame tagline used to initiate another boring circlejerk over Ali. I am no defender of Tyson, but something a little better than

"Ali transcended his sport"

and

"Tyson is a troubled soul"

then a few crap links, might be better appreciated.
posted by fire&wings at 5:06 PM on November 27, 2005


Ok, then. Your position is clear.
posted by spicynuts at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2005


Those who find him interesting in any way other than one finds a sideshow geek interesting, probably are the same people who glorify thug life, bling and the culture of drugs and violence that has destroyed countless young men.

But Tyson imploded on the national stage. You don't think it's possible to be interested in someone or something without being seduced by or glorifying whatever that person stood for? If so, the History Channel should probably stop running all those Hitler documentaries.
posted by spicynuts at 5:15 PM on November 27, 2005


Grow some balls and lets hear the difference between them,

Ali was a hell of a lot more fun to watch, both inside the ring and out since he was smarter and more articulate, and since his fights weren't overmatched 10-second kockouts.

And for a guy who decries the "gladiator mentality," you're awful eager to swing your dick around with the penis based in sults. Overcompensating?
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on November 27, 2005


Spicynuts, your not seriously comparing Hitler and a washed up boxer, are you? Are you sure your not thinking of, "Tonya Harding: The Untold Story" on Court TV?
posted by cedar at 5:50 PM on November 27, 2005


Well, I was merely trying to say that one can find an individual interesting without subscribing to that person's belief systems or mode of conduct. I think there is more to look at in Tyson's public self-destruction than just the acts themselves, in that he was entirely willing to vocalize his every thought or whim, regardless of how crazy, and then in the next interview deconstruct or psychoanalyze himself and his behavior. The window into that struggle between the thug and someone who knew that better behavior was expected of him was what I found interesting.
posted by spicynuts at 6:02 PM on November 27, 2005


Spicynuts, I see your point but we'll have to agree to disagree. I never got the feeling that Tyson had a clue that better behavior was expected from him.

Between trial testimony, post fight interviews, the Givens interview debacle and personal experience I see someone who believes that he is beyond societal norms and can do whatever he damn well pleases. The only introspection I've ever seen on Tysons part has been surprise and consternation each time he realizes that he's not going to get away with something -- spend enough time in courtrooms and that look is all too familiar.
posted by cedar at 6:14 PM on November 27, 2005


But no one cares, because boxing makes such great TV.

I don't watch boxing any more, even though I like it and admire boxers, for exactly the reasons you say.

Boom-Boom Mancini ... once compared it to a gladiator battle, but declared that a noble thing.

Maybe he was reaching for some ancestral Roman glamour. I think ikkyu2 was trying to convey disgust at shedding blood for an audience.

There's more to boxing than simple brute strength; it's about agility, cunning, endurance, and psychological warfare.

So? It's about all those things, and permanent brain damage for your entertainment.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:35 PM on November 27, 2005


jonmc, I actually wasn't trying to disparage ali. I was just sort of answering the rhetorical question with what I one day intend to say to my kids. the idea, however poorly conveyed here, is that he's still a regular guy, but more remarkable because of that.

and fire&wings has been demonstrating the approximate reading comprehension of a kindergartner in this thread.
posted by shmegegge at 7:58 PM on November 27, 2005


jonmc, I actually wasn't trying to disparage ali.

I know. I just wanted to say "Smokin' Joe." Makes me warmly nostalgic.
posted by jonmc at 8:24 PM on November 27, 2005


> Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not I," says the referee,
"Don't point your finger at me.
I could've stopped it in the eighth
An' maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would've booed, I'm sure,
At not gettin' their money's worth.
It's too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not us," says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
"It's too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.
We didn't mean for him t' meet his death,
We just meant to see some sweat,
There ain't nothing wrong in that.
It wasn't us that made him fall.
No, you can't blame us at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says his manager,
Puffing on a big cigar.
"It's hard to say, it's hard to tell,
I always thought that he was well.
It's too bad for his wife an' kids he's dead,
But if he was sick, he should've said.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the gambling man,
With his ticket stub still in his hand.
"It wasn't me that knocked him down,
My hands never touched him none.
I didn't commit no ugly sin,
Anyway, I put money on him to win.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the boxing writer,
Pounding print on his old typewriter,
Sayin', "Boxing ain't to blame,
There's just as much danger in a football game."
Sayin', "Fist fighting is here to stay,
It's just the old American way.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba's door
Where boxing ain't allowed no more.
"I hit him, yes, it's true,
But that's what I am paid to do.
Don't say 'murder,' don't say 'kill.'
It was destiny, it was God's will."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

posted by dhartung at 8:31 PM on November 27, 2005


Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

So many times, it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive


It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

Face to face, out in the heat
Hangin' tough, stayin' hungry
They stack the odds 'til we take to the street
For we kill with the skill to survive

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

Risin' up, straight to the top
Have the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger

The eye of the tiger



;>
posted by jonmc at 8:36 PM on November 27, 2005


I watched Ali walk into the lobby of the Louisville Courier-Journal. He sat down on a couch and held court. Everyone came down to meet him. I was lucky enough to be standing there and got my few minutes with the man before the editors and publishers came down to chat with Ali. No one expected him to come to their office.

Ali used his talent as a ticket out of a life he didn't want to lead. I was about 20 years behind him, but I didn't want to live in the poor neighborhoods of Louisville either. Did he suffer permanent brain damage for my entertainment? No. He carries the scars of a man who fought his own battles. To the best of his abilities on his own terms.

I tell my children that Ali showed that a person with feet of clay can still make a positive difference in the lives of millions. I tell them he did that with his courage, not in the ring, but in his convictions.
posted by ?! at 9:02 PM on November 27, 2005


And to bring balance to those horrible Survivor lyrics....

(chorus)
Hurry home early, hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini's fighting Bobby Chacon
Hurry home early, hurry on home
Boom Boom Mancini's fighting Bobby Chacon

From Youngstown, Ohio, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini
A lightweight contender, like father like son
He fought for the title with Frias in Vegas
And he put him away in round number one

(chorus)

When Alexis Arguello gave Boom Boom a beating
Seven weeks later he was back in the ring
Some have the speed and the right combinations
If you can't take the punches it don't mean a thing

(chorus)

When they asked him who was responsible
For the death of Du Koo Kim
He said, "Someone should have stopped the fight, and told me it was him."
They made hypocrite judgments after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back

(chorus)

-- Boom Boom Mancini by Warren Zevon
posted by ?! at 9:09 PM on November 27, 2005



And to bring balance to those horrible Survivor lyrics....

you probably didn't like Rocky, either, you communist.
posted by jonmc at 9:13 PM on November 27, 2005


On Boxing by Oates is a must read for any fan. And even better is The Sweet Science by Liebling.

Even if you are not a fan, I can't recommend these books enough.
posted by vronsky at 9:22 PM on November 27, 2005


The most important thing to tell your children is that no Vietnamese ever called Ali "nigger".
posted by orthogonality at 10:18 PM on November 27, 2005


If I had kids, we'd watch When We Were Kings. Ali is a great illustration of the dichotomy of the accomplishments of a public figure and the failings of a private person.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:27 PM on November 27, 2005


I tend to think that he will remembered much more for what he did as a black man at the height of his fame than for what his sport did to him. And what opportunity would he have had to spread his message if boxing had not been his avenue to greatness?

Thank you, spicy nuts, for making my point for me, again, and missing it at the same time.

I also note, without comment, that you appear to believe that a strong, smart, articulate black man of Ali's era could not, or should not, have had an opportunity to spread his message without damaging his brain in the process.

I happen to believe differently: I think that Ali's athleticism, work ethic, strong values, personality and charisma would have carried him to the top of nearly any field he chose.

That it happened to have been boxing is a shame; millions of young men hold him in the highest regard as a role model, and rightly so, for his numerous virtues. Unfortunately, some of them will take up boxing, and suffer the same effects that he did, or other terrible effects of brain injury.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:58 PM on November 27, 2005


Are today's boxers in as much danger as previous generations of boxers? I realize the sport is far away from being a shining beacon of integrity, but I imagine it is much better regulated nowadays. And of course, the safety equipment and medical treatment must be improving on a yearly basis. Would Ali have suffered the same fate if he had boxed in an environment of improved regulation and medical knowledge (which I imagine would have led to an earlier retirement)?
posted by mullacc at 12:16 AM on November 28, 2005


mullacc: The introduction of the technical knockout; the standing eight-count; the ten-round fight (as opposed to the twelve, and the fifteen, and the "last man standing"); the three-knockdown rule; and, in amateur boxing (including the Olympics), the introduction of headgear; were all intended to reduce the exposure of the boxer's brain to traumatic injury.

Did those things help? Almost certainly.

Do people still get killed every year in amateur boxing matches? Certainly. Do others suffer traumatic intracerebral hemorrhage, impact seizures, lifelong epilepsy, paralysis from spinal cord injury, rupture of the globe of the eyeball leading to blindness, skull and nasal fractures? Yes, and that's just some of what happens from the neck up.

I'm a neurologist. Here's what I do, minus bedside manner, when I diagnose traumatic brain injury: "You've got traumatic brain injury. Very sorry to say there's no treatment. Good-bye."
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:27 AM on November 28, 2005


And you get paid all that dough, too. I shoulda' been a neurologist.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:53 AM on November 28, 2005


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