By: Terry Foster
Let me take you back in time when Muhammad Ali was the most hated man in America.
Yeah, you are not hearing that in all the tributes you are reading following his death. We are hearing how much he was loved. Let me give you a dose of reality. He was not loved by most. You must realize I heard all the nasty names people call him, how much they rooted for him to lose and how people wished he were dead.
I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s and mostly what you are hearing now is fake.
The praise he gets today is well deserved. It's just not real. Ali was The Greatest for many reasons outside the ring. But he did not become loved by America until later in his career and for some after his career was finished. You must understand that for a black man to take stands against the government and against the majority of society were acts of bravery for some and acts of treason for others.
The braggadocio was beyond compare. He talked too much and some came to his fights to watch him lose. The problem is Ali backed his words up with lightning quick fists that tore opponents apart. America did not enjoy this man making a mockery of sportsmanship and watching this "colored man" dominate and demonstrate.
He wasn't like good ol' Joe Louis who had seven commandments he had to abide by. They included never taking a photo with a white woman, never gloat over a fallen opponent, never go to a night club alone and was to keep a "dead pan" look before the cameras.
Ali did none of this. In fact, he flaunted his charisma and gave the middle finger to America.
People refused to call him by name after he went from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. It took a while before many newspapers and broadcasters called him Ali. When he said he buried his slaved name, it drove people nuts.
Today, we say that Ali joined the Nation of Islam. Back then they were "the Black Muslims" and they threatened America with their bow ties, rhetoric and just by walking down the street. People did not like or trust "the Black Muslims" and that included some black people who viewed them as a religion of extreme militancy.
Look at how Donald Trump sells fear of Muslims and Arabs today. It wasn't much different back then. America did not like him rejecting "his slave name" for a name they did not understand or like.
The kids at Pattengill Elementary school, where I went to school, took sides in the Joe Frazier-Ali fights. Frazier represented white people and the establishment. Ali represented black people and rebellion. One of the unfortunate things Ali did is portray Frazier as an Uncle Tom and traitor to black people.
He called him stupid and made monkey sounds that cut Frazier to the core and made many blacks reject Smoking Joe. If you liked Frazier you were anti-black and pro-white. We all bought in despite that Frazier lent Ali money and lobbied President Nixon to allow Ali to fight when he was banned for avoiding the military draft and reporting for military duty during the Vietnam War.
He won over people opposed to war, which included both black and white. But at the time if America told you to report for duty, you reported.
"Joe Frazier is an Uncle Tom, he works for the enemy," Ali once said.
Their three fights became the Michigan-Ohio State of the boxing ring.
"He thought he would weaken me when it came time to face him in the ring," Frazier wrote in his 1996 biography. "Well he was wrong. It didn't, weaken me, it awakened me to what a cheap son of a bitch he was."
They patched things up later. Ali apologized and Frazier forgave him.
America forgave Ali also. He became sympathetic mostly after it was announced in 1984 that he had Parkinson's disease. The shake that defined Ali became a constant companion.
Yes, America loved Ali – eventually.
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