The man who trashed sportsmanship

Spencer Warren writes:

Let me make another point about Muhammad Ali:

He was the first professional athlete to abandon the tradition of good sportsmanship, substituting for it the massive egomania, self-aborption, and self-dramatization that is found in so many athletes today—most recently Terrel Owens, who has now been thrown off the Philadelphia Eagles by its principled management for his selfish, destructive behavior.

I can still see Ali crowing after his first victory over Sonny Liston, when he won the world heavyweight championship: “I am the greatest. I am the greatest.” In later victories he taunted his opponents both before the matches and when he had knocked them down in the ring.

What a contrast with his predecessors, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey. ESPN Classic often shows old boxing matches, going back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is noteworthy to see these and other champions, after bruising battles, warmly shake the boxing mitts of their defeated opponents. They were champions. Ali—who insulted and demeaned the great Joe Louis as an Uncle Tom—was a bum.

Ali should be remembered as the first major sports figure to begin the disrespect for authority and the self-assertion of the ego—at the expense of the broader interest of his sport—that is so prevalent throughout American life today.

I agree with everything Mr. Warren has said. I am also reminded of a celebratory book Norman Mailer wrote about Ali in the ’70s, of which the first sentence was: “Ego!” Mailer, the cultural revolutionary, saw Ali’s trashing of sportsmanship for the sake of self-promotion as a good thing.

Another reader feels that Mr. Warren and I are missing what’s most objectionable about Ali:

One point on which Muhammad Ali always gets a “by” is his religion. Although it is now commonly listed as Islam, for most if not all of his career he was a practicing Black Muslim. A radically different sets of beliefs that teaches that the Whiteman is the evil creation of a mad scientist named Yarub (sic) set upon the earth to bedevil the Blacks and who Allah will one day destroy in some unexplained holocaust .

So not only is Muhammad Ali the father of current ego driven un-sportsmanship, he was the first virulently racist boxing champion who longed to see the destruction of a whole people, many who were his staunchest supporters. Yet the press has always shied away from any reference to this, and the lie has been perpetuated to this day that Ali was/is a benevolent, gentle soul.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 29, 2005 10:27 AM | Send

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