Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali on life support as family is warned 'the end is near'

The great champion Muhammad Ali has passed away.

The media will be filled with him over the weekend. There will be threnodies for his passing, and encomiums for his life. My chorus voice is too small to add to all the soloists who will be singing his praises.

But ...

I can share a personal memory. When I was at Fordham in the late 60s, the University engaged a series of noontime lecturers - famous people who came and talked for a while, possibly answered a few questions, picked up their fee, and left after an hour. Ali was picked to participate, but did so his own way, as was his wont. He talked for a bit and answered questions for a bit, until some official or another came along to tell him that the ballroom was needed for some other purpose. At this point, Ali said, "Why don't we take this out on the grass?" It was a splendid warm day, and there were no objections. For another two or three hours, before an ever-increasing number of people, Ali took questions and answered them all candidly, taught some guys a few boxing moves, told stories about the famous events he was a part of, gave his insights on the personalities in boxing, discussed differing ring styles, and debated various controversial matters with the campus loudmouths, but always in a civil way, even when the crowd would have empathized with some ire. He was supposed to talk from noon to one, but I left at 2:50 for a 3 o'clock class, and he was still going strong out on the lawn. He had the crowd completely mesmerized by his humor, sincerity, enthusiasm and charm.

There are very few people, maybe just a handful in my lifetime, that I would comfortably describe as "charismatic." The champ was one of them.

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