Part 1—"I want to see the loser:" We're going to take another day to reflect on the many brilliant speeches we saw at last Friday's memorial for Muhammad Ali.
That said, our favorite anecdote from those speeches turned on this statement:
"I want to see the loser."
At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Ali said he wanted to see the loser! Last Friday, the speaker, John Ramsey, described what happened next.
For our money, brilliant speeches were delivered last Friday by an array of speakers—speakers who ranged from ages 11 and 19 on up. We were struck, as we often are, by the moral and intellectual brilliance which has emerged from the African-American world as part of our nation's benighted racial history.
At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Ali wanted to see the loser! Because we like our moral lessons simple, we're willing to say that we liked Ramsey's anecdote best.
Again and again, the speeches at last Friday's event often turned on a basic question: Who gets to be us?
Again and again, lifelong friends of Ali reported an intriguing conclusion: Everyone does! Everyone gets to be us!
Attalah Shabazz was six years old, and physically present, when her father, Malcom X, was shot and killed at a public event in 1965. In her speech last Friday, she described her searching relationship with her father's one-time friend, Ali, a relationship which started some thirteen years later.
According to Shabazz, she and Ali discussed his lapsed friendship with her father; they discussed the pain the break in the friendship had caused Ali. "We cried out loud," she said. "And then, just as loudly, we'd laugh, about the best of stories."
In her remarkable speech, Shabazz described what Ali told her about his discussions with her father. She also discussed who gets to be us:
SHABAZZ (6/10/16): A unifying topic was faith—an ecumenical faith, respect for faith, all faiths, even if belonging to one specific religion, or none. The root of such being the gift of faith itself.If you didn't see her speech, we'll suggest you might want to watch it. It starts around 1:28:00, extends for eleven minutes.
So in his own words, he [Ali] wrote:
"We all have the same God, we just serve him differently. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans all have different names, but they all contain water. So do religions have different names, and yet they all contain truth, truth expressed in different ways and forms and times.
"It doesn't matter whether you're a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe all people are part of one family.
"For if you love God, you can't love only some of his children."
His words, and certainly ideals shared by both men. Love is a mighty thing, devotion is a mighty thing, and truth always reigns.
An astounding array of faith traditions were represented at Friday's event. The speakers didn't all focus on religion. The man who reported the statement we liked best—"I want to see the loser"—is a Louisville sports radio host who spoke as a friend of Ali.
In closing, we'll step outside the spirit of Friday's event to make an invidious comparison:
We were struck by how brilliant so many of Friday's speeches were, especially as compared to the shrunken intellectual leadership to which we're all consigned within our mainstream and liberal press corps. We were also struck by this:
By all accounts, Ali wanted everyone to be us. We were struck by the contrast with the exclusionary spirit our own liberal/progressive tribe so frequently and unhelpfully broadcasts.
Bill Clinton spoke at this event—but so did Senator Orrin Hatch. Ali wanted everyone to be there.
Can we learn from this?
Tomorrow: He wanted to see the loser