“The king is dead. Long live the king!”
I posted my blog on ACCEPTANCE at 12:40 P.M. It turns out it is the archetypal word that describes the life of Mohammad Ali. After knocking out Sonny Liston, Casius Clay changed his name. The world had trouble ACCEPTING that. Then he REFUSED to serve his country after he was drafted. Most Americans has no ACCEPTANCE for that. Then he got on television and in all seriousness told the world we were going to have to ACCEPT him on – his terms! In a matter of days, Casius X refused all the labels and badges that were due him as heavyweight Champion of the World. He told the reporters Casius was his slave name that he X’s out because he is not a slave. Ali declared himself ‘King of the World’ and thus;
“What I say – goes!”
Owning a Christ CompleX most of my life, I got it. I saw the symbolism. Here is Spartacus – and Samson! Here is King Kong and Mighty Joe Young breaking their chains – and escaping! Here is The Beast who has been cursed. And now, only a beautiful woman can vanquish this curse, by ACCEPTING him for who he is, and loving him unequivocally. In months Mohammad Ali was ‘King of the Rejects’ . Not since Jesus ‘The Son of Peace’ has anyone championed all the DISENFRANCHISED! Where was this coming from? Some looked at Malcolm X. Did he have the Black Gladiator on a leash? What was the world looking for in Mohammad Ali who is now titled the Greatest Icon of our Century?
Before I published “Acceptance” I almost added the story of Harambe was not over. I took a nap. I fell asleep grieving for him. When I awoke, the news said Mohammad had been taken to the hospital. and it did not look good. I had considered if I was going to be titled a racist by comparing the plight of The Black Man with the plight of gorrilla whose death has provoked death threats. We are hearing Harambe was very rare, and it was hoped he would save his species. No sooner is the X World Champion dead, then I am hearing he a stunning physical specimen.
In the 70s, we heard the phrase “Black is beautiful”. Mohammad made us aware he was “pretty”. But, then he is calling Liston a “bear” and Frazier a “gorilla”. Again, where is that coming from? I suspect this came from the cranium of Malcolm X, and the teaching of Elijah Mohammad who was preaching blacks are more than equal to whites. Indeed, they are superior. Casius was now a Superior Specimen, a Black Superman. But, did he own the brains to go with? Did Malcolm X dictate to Ali more than we suspected? Here is the classic Brains vs. Brawn that humanity has struggled with for a million years.
There was no ACCEPTANCE for Elvis gyrating his hips. I remember the build-up to ‘The King of Rock and Roll making his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Would the camera wander below the king’s belt? This was high cultural drama. This was the unleashing of our Sexual Beast on the Bible Belt Bubbas. There was something very sexy about Ali. What if he kept his slave name and never embraced a priggish religion? What if he got in the ring with Elvis – or Clint Eastwood? SEX SELLS!
Young white boys had a thing for Rowdy Yates, Vess Parker, and Chuck O’Conner who was built like a white gorilla. Then, here come Sylvester Stalone. What was made clear, is that Frazer was the Boxing Gorilla for the pro-Vietnam War Hardhats, and Ali was the Shamed Champion of the Hippy Draft Dodgers. Peace does not sell. Wanting war was the American Way. If Clint got in a ring with Casius, it would be sold as the Greatest Fight of All Time. Mohammad would have to take a dive to avoid a Race War.
We watched Clint Eastwood knock himself out by having a fake verbal contest with the black President of the United States. Yesterday, we watched Donald Trump knock himself out by going after Judge Curiel who went into hiding after he went after Drug Lords who threatened to take his life.
I am tempted to write a play about Harambe on the lines of O’Neill’s ‘The Hairy Ape’. Isaiah will come to the zoo to celebrate his thirteenth birthday. He is overcome by the urge to drop int the gorilla pit and test his ability to make friends in the world. When he does, he is shocked to find Harambe sitting is an easy chair reading the New York Times. He is even more shocked to HEAR HIM SPEAK in a very articulate manner. In minutes Isaiah knows he is in the presence of his intellectual superior. The lesson begins.
“What is a man?”
I have known two Great Icons in my lifetime. Now, they are gone. Will there be others – way down the road?
Ali did not speak to His World for a very long time. The Louisville Lip, was mute. Meher Baba did not speak for the last thirty years of his life. He dictated his book via sign language. In my theological novel ‘Where Art Thou?’ I ask why God could no long see Adam and Eve in Paradise, and thus, His first question to humanity that gave birth to the worlds most famous dialogue. After Casius knocked out Sonny, a brand new dialogue was born. It filled our ears, our brains, our hearts. It spawn a million questions? King Mundi has vacated his throne. We continue OUR QUEST.
“Who am I?”
Muhammad Ali probably was the most stunning physical specimen any sport ever produced. Fair of face, beauty of body, a quick mind, reflexes of a crouched leopard, he might have been anything in sports. Vince Lombardi, no less, once agreed he might have made a superb tight end. If someone had put a basketball in his hands instead of boxing gloves, he might have been as good a backcourt man as the game can produce. He certainly had the hand-eye coordination to be a great baseball player.
We remember Ali calling Frazier “ugly,” an “Uncle Tom” and, especially, a “gorilla.” And even those of us too young to have stayed up to learn the result of a 15-round prizefight in the 1970s recall how black people laughed and laughed at this.
“I’m cringing in my car right now just thinking about it,” says Janks Morton Jr. He visited Frazier in Philadelphia in the early 1970s with his dad, Janks Morton Sr., who trained Sugar Ray Leonard and was close friends with Frazier’s sparring partner, heavyweight champ-to-be Ken Norton. “I can still see [Ali] sitting next to Howard Cosell punching that [rubber] black gorilla, saying, ‘It’s going to be a thrilla in Manila when I kill that gorilla.’
The boxer said he would abandon his so-called slave name and accept the name Muhammad Ali, which had been chosen for him by Elijah Muhammad.
Clay began taunting and provoking Liston almost immediately after the two agreed to fight. He purchased a bus and had it emblazoned with the words “Liston Must Go In Eight.” On the day of the contract signing, he drove it to Liston’s home in Denver, waking the champion (with the press in tow) at 3:00 a.m. shouting, “Come on out of there. I’m gonna whip you now.” Liston had just moved into a white neighborhood and was furious at the attention this caused. Clay took to driving his entourage in the bus to the site in Surfside, Florida where Liston (nicknamed the “Big Bear“) was training, and repeatedly called Liston the “big, ugly bear”. Liston grew increasingly irritated as the motor-mouthed Clay continued hurling insults
“After the fight, I’m gonna build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug. Liston even smells like a bear. I’m gonna give him to the local zoo after I whup him… if Sonny Liston whups me, I’ll kiss his feet in the ring, crawl out of the ring on my knees, tell him he’s the greatest, and catch the next jet out of the country.”).
For a man whose achievements and influence have spawned him into a walking demigod amongst humans, something Muhammad Ali failed to accomplish has haunted him for nearly 50 years. He never told Malcolm X he was sorry.
Rat’Lar, the maniacal leader of a species of aliens called the Scrubb, demands that Earth’s greatest champion fight the greatest Scrubb fighter. If Earth refuses, the Scrubb and their huge armada of spaceships will destroy it. Superman and Muhammad Ali each come forward to volunteer. However, Ali argues that Superman is not really of Earth, and has an unfair advantage in his many superpowers. In typical Ali-style verbiage, he puts himself forward as the obvious choice.
Intrigued, Rat’Lar decides that Superman and Ali should fight one another to see who really is Earth’s champion. To make the fight fair, he decrees that the match should take place on his home planet, Bodace, which orbits a red sun (which temporarily robs Superman of his powers). The winner would simply be the best boxer. The two would-be champions decide that Ali will train Superman in the finer points of boxing. They journey to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to have his powers temporarily deactivated.
The Superman vs. Muhammad Ali match is broadcast on intergalactic television to thousands of other worlds (with Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen acting as broadcaster). With the match underway, it soon becomes apparent that in battling with more or less equal strength, Ali is the superior fighter. Superman takes a serious pummeling, but somehow refuses to fall down; he stays on his feet all through the beating. Finally, Ali stops the fight, urging the referee to call for a technical knockout. Superman then falls face-first on the canvas (making the knockout more than technical).
Now crowned Earth’s champion, Ali is set to face the Scrubb’s champion, the behemoth Hun’Ya. The alien leader then asks Ali to predict at what round the fight will end. (Ali was known for predicting the round in which he would knock out his opponent.) After some chiding, Ali predicts that he’ll knock the alien out in the fourth round (“He’ll hit the floor in four!”). Once the match begins, however, Ali quickly starts to suffer from fighting the super-powered Hun’Ya.
Meanwhile, Superman’s great recuperative powers have enabled him to make a speedy recovery. Disguising himself as Ali cornerman Bundini Brown, he steals into the Scrubb command ship and sabotages their space armada. In his showdown with the armada, however, Superman is again badly hurt, and is left drifting in space.
Dan Van Coppenolle, a counselor at Brownsville Independent School District in Texas, explained in a piece for CNN what the name meant, and how he was inspired to name the newborn gorilla at the Gladys Porter Zoo. “It’s a Swahili name meaning working together, pulling together, helping each other, caring, and sharing,” he said. He was listening to Rita Marley sing the song “Harambe” while exercising on the treadmill back in 1999. She explained what the word meant, and he was struck by the name and decided to share it with his students. Then he came across a naming competition for a newborn gorilla:
After I was finished exercising, I sat down to read my local paper and came across an article about a contest to name a baby gorilla at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Immediately, a lightbulb went off in my head and I thought of Harambe. It seemed perfect: an inspiring African name for an endangered species.
Rita Marley – Harambe
ltes Green and Gold
A Rasta at the control
They try to keep us down
Scatter us all around
To diverse parts of the earth
Hoping we’d waste away
But no matter what they do
But no matter what they say
All a Jah Jah children a go Harambe
Harambe Harambe Rastaman say harambe
Harambe Harambe The Higher One say Haramb
What colour is the rainbow
Check it the next time it shows
That’s the way we should be
All together in harmony
We sailing in the same boat
We rocking up the same stream
So no matter what they do
So no matter what they say
All a Jah Jah children a go Harambe
Harambe Harambe Rastaman say Harambe
Harambe Harambe The Higher One say Haramb
Can a leopard change its spots
Or Jah Jah children their skin
Bob say blood is thicker than water
Love will take us further
So don’t feel no way
Cause a so Jah Jah say
And no matter what they do
And no matter what they say
All a Jah Jah children a go harambe
Harambe Harambe Rastaman say Harambe
Harambe Harambe The Higher One say Haramb
The Natural way Harambe
The African way Harambe
Don’t feel no way Harambe
A so Jah Jah say Harambe
Member Gong say Harambe
Of course, none of this ranks as groundbreaking information. Ali spoke his peace in the autobiography The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey. Nevertheless, the relationship between two of the 20th century’s most iconic names and personalities remains nothing short of magnetic and profound. Their falling out was an emotional one. X’s voyage to Mecca was an eye-opening experience that – through so many degrees of separation – can be tied to his own demise in February 1965. His denouncing of Elijah Muhammadleft Ali in an awkward place.
X and Ali were one in the same. Both were young, handsome, intelligent, outspoken African American men who scared the shit out of the White America during a time period when racial tension was the norm. However, following Ali’s legendary victory over Sonny Liston in February 1964, a brief open season of sorts took place. In somewhat the same manner sports teams openly woo franchise-altering caliber free agents in today’s world, the Nation of Islam desperately yearned for Ali as their poster child, headlined by Elijah’s very public courting. And Ali obliged, announcing his allegiance with the Nation of Islam under the name Cassius X.
Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, witnessed the overnight change of heart in the Nation firsthand. Prior to the Liston fight, the N.O.I. denounced the “filthy” sport of boxing to whomever listened. Afterwards, she said, “All of a sudden, they were breaking their necks, trying to get close to the heavyweight champion.”
Branding is everything. Perhaps Ali was blinded by the attractiveness the Nation’s affiliation would bring. Ali was a wide-eyed 22-years-old champion with the world in the palm of his lighting quick and accurate hands. Even with the bond he shared with Malcolm, there was a certain sense of loyalty to Elijah Muhammad. It was him, of course, who bestowed upon him the name of Muhammad Ali on March 6, 1964, on a Chicago radio broadcast.
As Ali toured parts of Africa, the two titans in sports and civil rights crossed paths in Ghana. Malcolm’s traditional Muslim attire – white robes which all but screamed “to hell with Elijah Muhammad’s teachings,” a beard and prophet’s stick – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. X’s thought process had changed completely. Malcolm attempted to greet Ali, but Ali turned away, disgusted in what he felt at the time was an unforgivable decision. From there, the bond was broken. For the rest of their natural born lives.
Ali’s legend in the ring was continuing to take shape. Meanwhile, X marched forward on what he believed was his mandated path of righteousness following his return from Mecca. I’m not one to claim to know what either was thinking throughout the year of 1964, some 22 years before my own birth. But one thing I’m positive of is despite the smiles and speeches, Ali thought about X and X about Ali.
Both had fought so much alongside each other, while becoming the faces of their respective professions, for a cause neither were sure would be seen in their own lifetimes. They thought about one another. Both probably wanted to make things right. Pride, especially a man’s pride, is a helluva drug, however; the knife man has willingly stuck in his own back since the beginning of time.
The story has a familiar ending. X was assassinated nearly a year to the day on what would’ve been the one year anniversary of Ali’s victory over Liston. In the champ’s own words*:
Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life. I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. But he was killed before I got the chance. He was a visionary ahead of us all.
…I might never have become a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.
A telling song some 17 summers ago preached in order to obtain the most out of life, learning to live with regrets is its most vital lesson. Another said best friends often become strangers when egos begin to replace selflessness and love. Whether or not Ali is familiar with “Regrets” or “The Message,” is irrelevant. He’s heard them without clicking play. He’s lived them.
And arguably the greatest athlete of all time has dealt with said lessons everyday of his life since February 21, 1965. Don’t go to sleep knowing (most) former friendships aren’t required to be “former” forever. Because soon enough, the main tools needed to make amends will no longer be on the shelf. Yourselves.
Learn from The Champ.