Nearly half the front page was dedicated to two stories headlined “The Greatest Of All Time” and about Muhammad Ali, the most recognizable man in the world at one time who died the other day. The bottom half had two stories about Donald Trump, questioning his ethics in selling a “university” to “students” who paid thousands of dollars to never get a diploma and for being loudly critical of a federal judge for, in Trump’s twisted world, being “Mexican” and thus prejudiced against Trump in that case.
For all the diminishing moments of this campaign for Trump, this had to be the most diminishing. To be on front pages all across America where voters can compare his legacy to Ali’s.
Ali was a sports icon, the best at what he did and not bashful to brag about it. More importantly, though, he had a set of principles he lived by that, when it came to choosing between being the Heavyweight Champion of the World and standing by his religious and moral beliefs, chose the road less taken. He lost his title and was branded a draft dodger for four years.
That road has never been taken by Trump, who brags about everything even though he has little to back up his braggadocio. And who doesn’t seem to have any principles.
All Ali ever sold was himself. But he was the personification of truth in advertising. He said he was the greatest, and he was. At 22 he was the world heavyweight champion after learning to box 10 years earlier because his bike had been stolen and he wanted to be prepared. He predicted the rounds his opponents would fall, and he delivered. He said he was the prettiest and damned if he wasn’t.
Trump sells his name. “Trump” is a brand that has represented luxury and high spending, an appeal to wealthy and faux wealthy folks who want to pretend they are getting the best. And Trump pretends to give it to them. Emphasis on the word “pretend.”
Ali had beliefs, strong beliefs. He became what then was called a Black Muslim, a religion little understood or known at the time, which was a time when African Americans weren’t really understood by White America either.
Into that breach walked Ali, who changed from his “slave name” of ‘Cassius Clay’ and was not bashful about explaining why. Next, he refused to be drafted into the Viet Nam war because he was a pacifist. Some at the time thought his conversion to Islam was just a cover to avoid the draft. But it wasn’t. He “ha(d) nothing against those Viet Cong,” he said and the rights the troops were fighting for weren’t rights that he thought were being given to him or other minorities. So what really were we fighting for?
And he accepted his punishment for that stand, which included being stripped of his boxing title. But he won a Supreme Court appeal, a court that included 9 white men who didn’t demonstrate racial prejudice in that case. Are you listening Mr. Trump?? No racial prejudice. They did their jobs with objectivity and allegiance to the law of the land.
Ali was his bravest and most honest though after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that creates tremors, and limits movement and the ability to speak. Read that again – physical movement and speech – the two primary strengths Ali had when he was younger. The two things he was best known for – his unmatched boxing ability and his unmatched outspokenness. The best boxer and probably the best talker of his generation. Both abilities being ripped from him.
And he faced that horrible disease with bravery and with class. He stood and lit the Olympic flame, suffering publicly from tremors as he stood at attention, proud to be where he was and demonstrating to the world his bravery and class. But also serving as a symbol of America – this loudmouthed black protestor standing and lighting the Olympic flame in front of the world. A beacon of what America is all about – freedom to succeed and freedom to be who you are.
It isn’t even fair to raise Donald Trump’s name in the same sentence as Muhammad Ali, but the power of the juxtaposition of those stores today struck me as a statement on our country – who we really are versus what Trump would lead us to be.
One, a man who would bar Muslims from this country, who criticizes an American federal judge as a “Mexican” and who would deport 11 million people form this country.
The other a man who projected strength, class and principle throughout his life.
No contest in that match-up.
RIP, Champ. You already are missed.