My Hot Take on Muhammad Ali

I know you have been waiting for this.

As I said yesterday, I’ve been gorging on Muhammad Ali remembrances, and what I said yesterday still holds… that the small, heartfelt ones are the ones I like best. Right now this is still my favorite:

Though, I have to say, the AP article on George Foreman’s comments to Tim Dahlberg of the AP were kind of great. Don’t follow this link unless you are really interested, because the AP website is a DISASTER.

I have a very clear memory of standing on the blacktop of my middle school playground and arguing about an upcoming Ali fight. I don’t know which one it was. I was arguing that Ali would win, and I remember saying… and to understand this you have to imagine a skinny fifth grade boy in a cheap rugby-style polo shirt trying to channel a bookie from the Bronx… I remember saying, “you have to beat the champ” while jabbing my finger into some other kid’s chest.

I have no idea where I got that. What I was saying was that Ali would win any decision because he was the champion. I’m not sure I really understood that at the time. It sounded good, so I went with it.

Ali won that fight, whatever fight it was. The deference that should have resulted from my prescient analysis and sports acumen never materialized.

I often get annoyed by who is chosen to represent the “fandom” of a particular athlete or team. It makes me crazy when Billy Crystal or Rudy Giuliani gets interviewed about the Yankees. I can’t bear to listen to Doris-Kearns Goodwin pontificate about the Red Sox, and I hate being subjected to Spike Lee’s thoughts on the Nicks.

When I first watched “When We Were Kings”, I almost turned it off when I realized that Norman Mailer and George Plimpton were going to be the filters for the ringside view of the Rumble in the Jungle. You know what? They were great in that movie. They both usually make me mental, but I could listen to Norman Mailer talk about boxing all day. Sometimes two old white guys on bar stools is the way to go, and after watching that documentary I thought, maybe I will read The Executioner’s Song some day.

I watch boxing. It’s an ugly thing. I can’t help it. I like some blood sports. I like bull fights. I know, I know… it’s morally indefensible. There is so little boxing on regular TV that it doesn’t feel like that much of a vice. I endure Teddy Atlas to watch Friday Night Fights. If you don’t know Teddy Atlas, here is all you need to get to know him:

Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s fills me with guilt. Almost all of the boxers I once loved are seriously impaired by their time in the ring. It’s horrible, and Ali… so smart, so charismatic, so loving… brings the stupidity of the sport into high relief. Maybe I’ll give up watching. I’ve contemplated giving up watching NFL football, and boxing should come before that.

I’ve been watching the women’s NCAA softball tournament. It’s pretty great, but you wouldn’t want to read my hot take on that, would you?

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