MUHAMMAD ALI AND WHO GETS TO BE US: The shrunken state of our leadership!

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016

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.

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.
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.

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


  1. I don't want to take anything away from what Ali is alleged to have said in his later life. Bob is right to highlight and praise them. However, the entirety of the celebration of around Ali's death has the feeling of hagiography. For a correction to that, I would recommend Mark Kram's book "Ghosts of Manila" which offers a different take on Muhammad Ali. Kram was a boxing writer for Sports Illustrated for over 11 years and possibly interviewed Ali during his career more than anyone else.

    I would also offer that I was at the IBHOF 2016 Induction ceremony this weekend in Canastota, NY, and inductee, journalist, and close Ali friend Jerry Izenberg said in an interview that the Ali described in his speeches at his funeral bore little resemblance to the Ali he knew.

    1. People can read a short description of Kram's book below:

    2. Next thing you'll tell me is that George Washington lied once.

    3. Does what really happened in the past matter, or are people okay with hagiography?

    4. hardindr - That's an interesting link you provided. I didn't know that Kram, who wrote some great boxing stories about Ali, thought so poorly of him as a person.
      However, as with most things involving people, my guess is that things are more complicated, and that Kram for whatever reason is at least a little unfair in his opinion of Ali. Nevertheless, your point about avoiding hagiography is a good one.

    5. By the way, hardindr, I looked-up Jerry Izenberg's comments about Ali at the IBHOF induction ceremony, and the only quote I could find was that Izenberg called him maybe the greatest humanitarian of all time.

    6. Yes, Izenberg said that, but he also made the comment I mentioned above about the speeches at Ali's funeral.

      Izenberg's thoughts on Ali can be read in his column about Ali...

  2. FWIW:

    Ali was not a journalist. Funerals and funeral speeches are not media discourse.

    1. At this speed the lightening will strike you first.

  3. I remember one black sportswriter at the Chicago Sun Times who came to really hate Ali for his derogatory comments about other black fighters. As far as I know, he never rescinded the awful comments Jeff Jacoby reminds us of this week.
    Well, I don't want to spoil Bob's fun. Mostly Ali was a good guy but people loved him because he was talented, charismatic, and good looking. And we know where that can end.

    Al Lewis, the commie munster, gave an interview once where he said, "I have no heroes. Not one. All men have feet of clay."

    And that's probably the grown up way of looking at things.

    1. Jeff Jacoby? Hahahahah.

      Look him up, people, look him up.

  4. Quick aside: Do you know how many times Chris Matthews has referred to individuals born in the United States as "Irish" or even as "Irishmen?

  5. Bob...your best and most important work since Deflategate. Which isn't over, for our money.

    1. The haters just won't give it up, will they? A sad commentary on the was of the liberal tribe
      even when the sports heroes are from red states.

    2. As someone commented the3 other day...but you already knew that!

  6. The shrunken nature of things elevates the Dilbert's to a higher congealed comedic plane above the molten morass of our melted culture.

  7. I do not get anything positive from her speech. Religious faith is one of the most destructive notions humans have invented. Religious faith is routinely used to excuse being faithless secularly. Also rivers, lakes, oceans contain vastly different types of water; this is knowledge gained through science. And there is certainly very little truth revealed by religion. Religion is started by Music Men to control other people like the Manchurian Candidate. And good luck finding a truly faithful person, I have yet to come across a single person that follows their faith religiously.

    1. @ Anon 6-13 19:51 EDT ... Wow. You are what they call, 'a hater'. Not hateful, 'a hater'. And not to stereotype, like YOU did, everyone who thinks like you, IS Hateful.

    2. Have faith; you will yet.

  8. "I want to see the loser:"

    "I want to see the loser."

    At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Ali said he wanted to see the loser!

    At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Ali wanted to see the loser!

    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.

    Tomorrow: He wanted to see the loser

    Bob Somerby

    Repetition is an early symptom of dementia or a sign of disorganized thinking known as Formal Thought Disorder (FTD).

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