FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Yet Another Book on Muhammad Ali

by DAVE ZIRIN

There are more books about Muhammad Ali than Abe Lincoln: 300 titles in the children’s section alone. You can also purchase The Muhammad Ali Reader, the Tao of Muhammad Ali, or the $10,000 G.O.A.T. – a massive coffee table book about all things Ali that is slightly larger than a typical coffee table. His is a history that has been repeatedly regurgitated for popular consumption. Despite – or maybe because of – this crisis of Ali overproduction, I felt compelled to write The Muhammad Ali Handbook.

An informal Ali School of Falsification has been running full throttle since 1996. That was the year Ali, his hands trembling, lit the Olympic torch in Atlanta. The connection between Ali and the global audience crackled and his Olympic moment sparked a renaissance of interest.

The way this interest has been sated, however, has been with books and retrospectives swamped with either sugary spin or slander. The dominant discourse has come from the “sell Ali” crowd. They are part of the Champ’s inner circle and last year made a deal with CKX inc. to sell his image for $50 million. They are the same company that turned Elvis Presley into a velvet painting. CKX inc. marked Ali’s 65th birthday in January with the release of a new line of snack foods with names like “Rumble,” “Shuffle” and “Jabs” and flavors such as “Fruit Fight,” “Thrill-A-Dill-A” and “Slammin’ Salsa.”

This new sanitized Ali can shill for Microsoft or receive honors at the White House. He is someone George W. Bush could cuddle next to for the cameras and comfortably call “a man of peace.”

The second strain comes from the “smear Ali” crowd. There is a new cottage industry of books that attempt to prove in the words of one particular piece of trash that “Ali was an unapologetic sexist and unabashed racist” who “was bad for America.” This group takes Ali’s opposition to the war in Vietnam and his Muslim religion, and crushes him for having the temerity to speak his mind. They come off as a thinly veiled exercise in attacking those today that would dare resist.

These two wings of the Ali School of Falsification share a common destination: the obliteration his wildly attractive and all-to-edgy political impact. Sport – and all popular culture – is the business of perception. Therefore to understand Ali, we must not only know the man, but also how he was perceived. Since the 1960s audience consuming the young Ali were part of some of the most important social upheavals in the 20th century, it makes taking this holistic view all the more important.

My book takes the starting point that Ali was someone who was both shaped by and a shaper of his times: the segregation of the 1950s; the revolts of the 1960s; the sybaritic 1970s; the despair of the 80s and the commercial culture of the 1990s. His chameleon like ability to be a man of all seasons, makes him unique in the history of sports. Many star athletes live in isolation, their lives defined by bodyguards and gated communities: the general public a nation of enemies. For Ali, particularly the young Ali, his ear was to the street. Having a bodyguard was not his way. As he said,

“I’m an easy target. I’m everywhere; everybody knows me. I walk the streets daily, and nobody’s guarding me. I have no guns, no police. So if someone’s gonna get me, tell them to come on and get it over with – if they can get past God, because God is controlling the bullet.”

This may be another world from today’s athletes, but Ali could not be more relevant and reclaiming his legacy could not be more pressing. We live in an era where sports has become an industry that towers titanically over the grandest dreams of its founders. It is bigger than US steel, and counts profits in the hundreds of billions. The stars of the SportsWorld are given a platform that dwarves both celebrities and elected leaders. But that platform comes at a price: it comes branded with corporate logos and the expectation that those given the stage will toe the line. Muhammad Ali represents a different path: the person that would not be who they wanted him to be. And we are richer not only for the experience but the example.

To tell this story, I wanted the book to be a part of the MQ Publications handbook series. They intersperse almost every other page with rare photos, quotes and interviews. Comparing most biographies to the MQ series is like comparing a map to a globe: it’s the same story but told in a radically different way. They deserve the credit for placing my text in a package that is simply breathtaking.

I feel like we have created a book that makes a small contribution toward historical preservation. The goal is simple: to make sure those who would sell Ali by the pound or smear his reputation as a freedom fighter, don’t destroy a name that deserves to echo unvarnished through the struggles of the future.

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of “The Muhammad Ali Handbook” (MQ Publications) and “Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports” , forthcoming from Haymarket. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com

 

 

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
Paul J. Ramsey
What Trump’s Travel Ban Reveals About His Long-Term Educational Policy
Norman Pollack
Two Nations: Skid Rows vs. Mar-a-Lago
Michael Brenner
The Great Game: Power Politics or Free Play?
Sam Gordon
Falling Rate of Profit, What about Some Alienation?
Jack Random
Sidetracked: Trump Diaries, Week 8
Julian Vigo
The Limits of Citizenship
James Graham
French Elections: a Guide for the Perplexed
Jeff Mackler
The Extraordinary Lynne Stewart
Lee Ballinger
Chuck Berry: “Up in the Morning and Off to School!”
Binoy Kampmark
Romancing Coal: The Adani Obsession
Nyla Ali Khan
Cultural Syncretism in Kashmir
Chad Nelson
The Politics of Animal Liberation: I Can’t Quit You Gary Francione
Weekend Edition
March 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Reynolds
Israel and the A-Word
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail