Muhammad Ali To Receive Grawemeyer Spirit Award

Thomas McAdam

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The University of Louisville announced today that former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali will be the inaugural recipient of the Grawemeyer Spirit Award on September 17.

University of Louisville President James Ramsey said: “The Grawemeyer Spirit Award recognizes an individual whose beliefs, actions and worldwide impact are in accord with Charles Grawemeyer's reason for creating the awards program that bears his name.  This award recognizes those who, in Charlie Grawemeyer's own words, 'make the world a better place.' I think he would be very pleased that we are honoring Mr. Ali's lifetime achievements.”

The Grawemeyer Awards have been given to recipients for 30 years to recognize contributions in music composition, education, religion, psychology and improving world order, but the “Spirit Award” is apparently not intended to become a regular part of the Grawemeyer program, and the University has indicated that the awards committee is not expected to present another spirit award to anyone else.

Louisville’s most famous son, Cassius Clay (a/k/a Cassius X, Muhammad X, Muhammad Ali), is getting up in years, and—with all his obvious medical problems—cannot be expected to live much longer.  When he passes from this mortal coil, the hagiographic writers will elect him immediately into the pantheon of Great Athletes Who Qualify For Sainthood, and it will be déclassé to speak any ill of the late departed.  So, while he’s still alive, we can still tell the truth about him:  Not everyone in Louisville thinks he’s so great.

Not all biographic treatments of Cassius Clay ignore the ugly and sordid aspects of his life.  Purdue PhD Jack Cashill—widely respected for his PBS documentaries—wrote a starkly revealing portrait of Clay in his 2006 best-seller, Sucker Punch:  The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King's Dream

Dr. Cashill reminds readers that Clay was an unapologetic sexist and unabashed racist, who called for the lynching of interracial couples and an American apartheid as late as 1975.   Using mostly primary sources, the author gives examples of how Clay routinely denigrated black heroes who did not share his point of view, including Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and especially Joe Frazier.  And he shows how Clay shamelessly courted some of the most brutal dictators on the planet: Qadaffi, Idi Amin, Papa Doc Duvalier, Nkrumah, Mobutu, and Ferdinand Marcos.

Despite his middle-class upbringing in Louisville, turned his back on the city of his birth (“…so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights.”)  and joined a racist cult;  the Black Muslims who believed white people were made in a test tube by an evil doctor named Yacub who successfully bred light skinned blacks together until he created a mutant race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed beings.

It’s hard to find much virtue in a man who refused to defend his country during the Vietnam War, cheated on every one of his wives, and fathered several illegitimate children.   Despite the fact that his family proudly traced their lineage to Kentucky’s famous Henry Clay, “Muhammad Ali” falsely claimed that any white blood he had in him was the result of "raping."  This makes for a good story, but ignores the fact that Clay’s great grandfather was a white man married to Cassius’ black grandmother well after slave holding days.

A list of Clay’s virtues is a short one.  He was an accomplished athlete, rather handsome, and made millions by periodically beating the daylights out of fellow pugilists in America’s only remaining blood sport. 

A list of his vices would take more space than is herewith available.  He’s uneducated and not very bright.  He flunked his first Armed Forces Qualification Test, and only later passed it when the manpower demands forced the AFQT to lower its cutoff to IQ 65.  He never wrote anything of note (The phony “Wit and Wisdom of Muhammad Ali” is predominantly quotations and doggerel poetry written by his handlers), and has never been quoted as making an intelligent remark on any subject other than prizefighting.

A millionaire, Clay is not on record as having made any substantial monetary contribution to any charity; and receives compensation for most of his “appearances” at charitable functions.  Interviewers are careful never to ask him his opinions on such topics as homosexuality, inter-racial marriage, Christians, Jews, or the status and treatment of women. 

In reality, he is nothing more than a blank screen; moved around from place to place by rich white people, who project their views and beliefs upon his once-attractive surface.  He’s said to be a big supporter of fairness, brotherhood, economic justice, peace, environmentalism, and every other liberal dogma from regular flossing to periodic tire rotation.  In reality, Clay is clueless; his mind having tragically left his body years ago.

And even the term “tragically” is somewhat gratuitous.  In a less-enlightened era, we would have referred to Clay’s Parkinsonism as Dementia pugilistica  (traumatic boxer’s encephalopathy), or being just plain “punch-drunk.”  He stayed in the ring too long, and received too many powerful blows to his head.  It would certainly have been tragic if his dementia had been the result of an automobile accident.  But prizefighting is never a safe occupation; and over-extending a boxing career—motivated solely by greed—is the equivalent of putting your brain in a blender.  The predictable results are sad, to be sure, but hardly tragic.

Cassius Clay is a nasty piece of work, and hardly deserving of the fulsome praise he continues to receive from liberals and the leftist media.  He was a braggart, a womanizer, a narcissist, and a racist capable of such vile comments as:  "No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters."

Back when Cassius Clay and I were kids, growing up in Louisville’s Parkland neighborhood, every little boy dreamed of two things:  Owning a pony and a Daisy air-rifle.  Of course, none of our West-end parents could afford a pony, and most folks were too sensible to let their kids play with BB-guns.  But every summer, there was an old guy with a pony and a box camera who would wander around Parkland, offering to take a kid’s photo astride the pony, for a buck.  You could put on your cowboy hat (we all had ‘em), brandish your Hopalong Cassidy pistols (had ‘em too), and get yourself in a black-and-white picture somewhat reminiscent of the black-and-white cowboy movies we all watched at the Parkland Theatre every Saturday.

The PETA folks weren’t around back then, and nobody ever entertained a thought about how the old guy with the camera was exploiting the poor old flea-bitten pony; an animal so docile that he might as well have been stuffed, like Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger.  But, looking back on it, we all felt a little sorry for the poor old pony.  The indignity suffered by the once-noble steed, relegated to the role of prop in an unending series of photo ops, was palpable. 

And, today, when we watch the once-beautiful (if not noble) Cassius Clay being paraded about by his wife and handlers, our thoughts nostalgically return to that poor pony.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Cassius Clay and I are about the same age, and were both raised to be Catholics in Louisville’s West-end Parkland neighborhood.  I have had the honor of meeting him and shaking his rather large hand on several occasions.  I always found him to be friendly and courteous.  His countenance reminds one of the great line in e.e. cummings’ famous poem, Buffalo Bill:  “Jesus, he was a handsome man…”  We even had the same draft board, but only one of us showed up for induction.  The other one got a museum named after him, and will receive a prestigious award next month from my alma mater. 


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