In this month of TV ratings or “sweeps” with all of the choices on television, I was surfing the channels the other night and stopped on a PBS documentary about Muhammad Ali. Yet another contest that Ali wins hands down. The champ vs. any made-for-TV movie.
This documentary focused on Ali’s ring record and his part of social reform in the U.S. in the ‘60’s. Although his current struggle against Parkinson’s syndrome still keeps him in the limelight, Ali is part of America’s past. Our sporting past and what we are today.
I started wondering what current athlete might be able to approach the impact, out of his sport, that Ali had on American culture. I’m aware it was a different time, but regrettably, the answer is nobody. And worse, nobody seems to be even trying. Ali, and many athletes of his era knew the kind of impact they could have on society, what kind of role model they might be, and the influence they had on young people. Is any of that happening today?
In very few instances.
Most fans are disenfranchised from professional athletes. The money gap starts the division, but the lack of the common touch widens the gulf. I had breakfast with Ali once. Just the two of us and one other guy in a deserted restaurant in Charleston, S.C. At the time, he was arguably the most famous person on the planet, but you wouldn’t have known it by our conversation. In fact, you wouldn’t have even known he was a boxer or an athlete listening to him talk. Is there anybody out there now you can say that about? I’m still thinking about that.