Gordon Marino on Muhammad Ali

Now up on the homepage is a tribute to Muhammad Ali by frequent Commonweal contributor Gordon Marino. As many dotCommonweal readers know, Marino is not only a philosophy professor; he's also a professional boxing trainer. As a teenager "with boxing aspirations," Marino disliked Ali—partly because of the way Ali taunted his opponents (especially other black boxers), but above all because he did not conform to Marino's idea of what a heavy-weight boxer should be. "With his almost feminine good looks, his flitting about the ring, and his incessant jibber-jabber, he was at odds with the code of strong-and-silent masculinity that I instinctively revered." But eventually Ali won Marino over—not with his famous charm but with his character:

There are a few rare people who see themselves as the sun and the moon, but who are still somehow able to get outside their own orbit and care about others. For all his bluster about being the greatest and most beautiful, Ali was no narcissist: he noticed the people around him.

When I travelled to Louisville for the opening of the Ali Center in 2005, I met one person after another whose life had been pushed in a new direction by a fortuitous encounter with Ali. One fellow in his fifties told me that many years earlier he had given Ali a cookie. The champ, who had a sweet tooth, thought it was delicious and helped get the man started in what would become a thriving business. Howard Bingham, who would become of one of Ali’s lifelong friends, told me the tale of bumping into Ali in 1962 in Los Angeles. At the time, Bingham was a fledgling photographer. By giving him access, Ali catapulted him into a stellar career behind the lens. Over the course of the event, I heard many other testimonies from folks Ali had simply put his arms around at a difficult moment. Like a great cornerman, he gave them the fortitude to deal with the foe of a disease or a death in the family.

Read the whole thing here.

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