A few days ago (Sunday, 20 November), the HAPPENING took place in Louisville, Kentucky, birthplace of a lot of important folks but none apparently so important as Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., aka Muhammad Ali, onetime boxer and heavyweight champ. It took place at the Muhammad Ali Center, a $54 million facility designed to glorify the boxer – indeed, to beatify the man, at least in Islamic terms, since this greatest gift to the world from Louisville is an adherent of the Nation of Islam, the religious entity in this country headed for many years by Elijah Muhammad, aka Robert Poole, and headed now by Louis Farrakhan, aka as Louis Eugene Walcott, or by some irreverently as Calypso Louie, whose latest claim to fame was his assertion that the levees of New Orleans were sabotaged in order for black people to be killed.
Whether for political (most likely) or any other reasons, the state of Kentucky, using taxpayer funds, has ponied-up $10 million for the project, state officials, elected and otherwise, thus establishing their approval of Ali as a far-greater-than-life personage who supposedly has brought inordinate respect to the state, known by some wags as the land of beautiful horses and fast women, perhaps not too inaccurate a hedonistic description, considering its coupling with this garish Louisville monstrosity honoring a man who made his living by attempting to turn other men’s brains into jelly through administering to them great pain, the sort of activity that would garner jail time for its administrator if it took place on the sidewalk. The state’s elite politicians, movers and shakers of every type, and celebrities from the world of entertainment gushed over this affair, thus establishing the depths to which otherwise talented and educated people can descend in flashing the marker that naked, physical, animalistic, brutal ability trumps the mental, spiritual and socially vital attributes as those to be admired and role-modeled in a society riddled with the “if it feels good, do it” mentality, the devil take the hindmost.
In the city-budget of Louisville last year was an expenditure of $80,000 to be used in creating a statue of Ali, whose name also appears on what used to be historic Walnut Street but now is Muhammad Ali Boulevard. The irony lies in the fact that Louisville has been the scene for years of astounding medical achievements in areas such as treatment for heart disease and the reattaching of severed limbs or implantation of limbs. The clinical trial for the AbioCor Implantable Replacement Heart was conducted in Louisville, and the Jarvik-7 artificial heart of the 80s was implanted in a patient by a Louisville doctor, William DeVries. Drs. Dowling and Gray not long ago implanted an AbioCor heart in a man who was near death. Do these people deserve statues for helping people live, or has it come to the point where statues are reserved for people who help others hurt or even die? After all, bludgeoning a man’s head with any instrument is little more than an attempt to kill him.
Louisville is recognized as the "hand-surgery capitol of the world." The method of reattaching hands was pioneered there by Dr. Harold Kleinert, and he and his colleagues at the Christine M. Kleinert Institute have trained more than 1,100 hand surgeons in 58 countries. In 1977, the first successful bilateral arm replant was done in Louisville. Much more could be said, but the point is that gifted doctors such as these men deserve statues, streets named after them, and world acclaim. Such acclaim is reserved, instead, for an individual interested in maiming, not healing, and whose hands are used to separate men from consciousness rather than help them survive in reality.
The same could be said for Cincinnati. There is a street there called the Ezzard Charles Drive, so named for another heavyweight champion in 1977 by changing its name, ironically, from the Lincoln Park Drive. This is the city where Dr. Albert B. Sabin, renowned former member of the University of Cincinnati medical-school staff for 30 years, brought into existence the oral serum/vaccine to protect against polio. Dr. Sabin also developed a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis. The point: Those whose achievements in behalf of helping mankind on a scale so grand that they defy comprehension are hardly known, if at all, in a general way, while men who knocked other men senseless for millions of dollars are considered heroes. One could hardly imagine a sadder commentary on the society than this state of affairs. Disgusting.
Lest this be construed as racist or discriminatory, since Ali and Charles (now deceased) represent African Americans, the same holds true for arguably the greatest boxer of all time, Rocky Marciano, a white man who held the heavyweight title 1952-56 and was the only undefeated champion of all weight classes, winning all of his 49 bouts, 43 of them via knockouts. This also is not a personal condemnation, since there is room for disagreement on all that has been written here. It is to point out: (1) Boxing, rather than being a sport, is an exercise in thuggery, and (2) The society has a terribly misplaced sense of values. Lionizing Ali, plainly and simply, indicates a sickness in the society not too far removed from that of the ancient Romans who took their pleasure in watching people and animals fight to the death, with blood running in rivers. In Kentucky terms, boxing is about on the level of cock-fighting, except that the perpetrators maim intentionally, while roosters have little choice.
The society's obsession with the trivial/banal and the gross, such as reality shows and boxing, is proof that something vital is being lost. This nation has achieved a modicum of greatness, but it is now in danger of sacrificing that greatness on the altar of the obscene. Perhaps Ali was in the vanguard of the athletes who now comport themselves, especially in football and basketball, in the same manner as that which is found among some inhabitants of the zoo, teasing and taunting their enemies while prancing around in various poses such as the “crotch-hop” and “chest-thumping/banging” or doing those delightful “dancing/skipping/duck-walking jigs.” There was a time when sports connoted gentlemanliness, humbleness, and selflessness. That time is long-gone, not least because of folks like Ali and those who worship at his feet.
Role model was he…so everyone said,
He stung like a bee…inflicted deep dread;
With butterfly glide, he shuffled just right,
Would sharply deride each one he would fight;
He smashed fragile brains…his living - no more,
Like capital gains…or, running a store;
From back-alley brawls men may go to jail,
From legalized brawls…no need to seek bail;
An art, some insist…in great hall or mud -
An art-form of fist…on canvas of blood;
Character-builder…such sport makes a man!
No! death-blow wielder makes sport of a man;
Character-building is found in a trench
Where death-blow wielding is free of all stench
When freedom is served, mankind to protect,
And strong men are nerved…their safety reject;
Character-building is found in each place
Where folks shield themselves from sloth and disgrace
Through honest, hard work…through helping the weak,
Their tasks never shirk, while they never seek
Respect that derives from hurting for gain -
Disgrace that contrives respect from sheer pain;
Role model was he…so everyone said,
That butterfly-bee…could knock a man dead.