„I’m free to be what I want“

Muhammad_Ali_1966 Mohammad Ali 1966, Fotograf unbekannt, Niederländisches Nationalarchiv, Bestandsnr. 924-3060 (beschnitten)

New York Times: What’s my Name?

I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.

If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.

I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.

I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin‘ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.

I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man. I had to show the world.

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?

I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.

Friendship… is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.

A man who has no imagination has no wings.

It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.

I have been so great in boxing they had to create an image like Rocky, a white image on the screen, to counteract my image in the ring. America has to have its white images, no matter where it gets them. Jesus, Wonder Woman, Tarzan and Rocky.

My toughest fight was with my first wife.

Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.

Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.

What’s really hurting me – the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace. I couldn’t just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem. (on 9/11)

Life is short; we get old so fast. It doesn’t make sense to waste time on hating.

12 Gedanken zu „„I’m free to be what I want“

    • Danke für die Zitate und die Erinnerung an Mohammed Ali, aka Cassius Clay. Ich glaube, er war ein kluger, außergewöhnlicher Kopf, trotz seines umstrittenen Markenzeichens: dem Maulheldentum, vor seiner schweren Parkinson-Erkrankung. Mir gefällt, dass seine Tochter als Boxerin sozusagen in seine Fußstapfen getreten ist. 2009 habe ich ein mutterloses Katerchen gefunden und es Ali genant, in Anlehnung an Muhammed Ali, nicht zuletzt, weil auch mein Kater einen kräftigen linken Haken performt.

  1. David Remnick, The New Yorker: The Outsized Life of Muhammad Ali

    What a loss to suffer, even if for years you knew it was coming. Muhammad Ali, who died Friday, in Phoenix, at the age of seventy-four, was the most fantastical American figure of his era, a self-invented character of such physical wit, political defiance, global fame, and sheer originality that no novelist you might name would dare conceive him. Born Cassius Clay in Jim Crow-era Louisville, Kentucky, he was a skinny, quick-witted kid, the son of a sign painter and a house cleaner, who learned to box at the age of twelve to avenge the indignity of a stolen bicycle, a sixty-dollar red Schwinn that he could not bear to lose. Eventually, Ali became arguably the most famous person on the planet, known as a supreme athlete, an uncanny blend of power, improvisation, and velocity; a master of rhyming prediction and derision; an exemplar and symbol of racial pride; a fighter, a draft resister, an acolyte, a preacher, a separatist, an integrationist, a comedian, an actor, a dancer, a butterfly, a bee, a figure of immense courage.

    In his early career, when he declared his allegiance to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, rid himself of his “slave name,” and lost his heavyweight title rather than fight in Vietnam, Ali was vilified as much as he was admired. Millions hated Ali; he threatened a sense of the racial order; he was, in his refusal to conform to any type, as destabilizing to many Americans as he was to the many heavyweights who could not understand why he would just not come to the center of the ring and fight like a real man. He was, for many years, a radical figure for many Americans. For years, many refused to call him by his new name. “I pity Clay and abhor what he represents,” the columnist Jimmy Cannon wrote. Even Red Smith, the most respected of all sports columnists, compared Ali to the “unwashed punks” who dared to march against the war. But in recent decades, as Parkinson’s disease began to overwhelm his gifts for movement and speech, and as the country’s attitudes changed, Ali became a focus of almost universal affection. The people who encountered him at charity dinners, in airports, at sporting events approached him as they would a serene Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama, and, if he could summon a whispered joke or flirt for a moment or just widen his eyes in that old vaudeville way of his, people left with a sense of having met a source of wonder.

    Cassius Clay lived in a modest house on Grand Avenue, a relatively pleasant street with other black families, not in “Smoketown,” the poorer black neighborhood in southwest Louisville. It was middle class, “but black middle class, black Southern middle class, which is not white middle class at all,” Toni Morrison told me when I was working on a book about Ali. (As an editor at Random House, Morrison had worked on Ali’s autobiography, “The Greatest.”) Cassius was named for a nineteenth-century Kentucky abolitionist and military commander who inherited forty slaves and then freed them when he came home from the war in Mexico. He was, for a while, Abraham Lincoln’s emissary to Russia, but he soon returned to Kentucky to work again for the abolitionist cause. Cassius—the boy, the fighter—was told stories about his great-grandfather who was raised on the abolitionist’s farm, “but not in a slave capacity. No, sir!,” as Clay, Sr., Ali’s father, once said.

    Louisville, when Cassius was growing up in the nineteen-forties and fifties, was a Jim Crow city. American apartheid. Not quite as virulent as in Jackson or Mobile, but plenty bad. At movie theatres like the Savoy, whites sat in the orchestra, blacks in the balcony; most other theatres were for whites only, and so were the stores downtown. There were white schools, white country clubs, white businesses. Blyden Jackson, a black writer from Louisville, who was in his forties when Clay was growing up, wrote, “On my side of the veil everything was black: the homes, the people, the churches, the schools, the Negro park with Negro park police. . . . There were two Louisvilles and, in America, two Americas.” It was a childhood in which Cassius saw his mother turned away for a drink of water at a luncheonette after a hard day of cleaning the floors and toilets of white families. These were daily scenes, the racial arrangements of Louisville.

    Cassius’s father was a man of thwarted dreams. He distrusted whites, and felt he was prevented from becoming a painter of canvasses rather than of signs and billboards. He drank too much, and his bitterness sometimes tipped into chaos. He was, one of Ali’s friends said, the source of a great deal of pain in the family. His mother, Odessa, was usually the object of Cassius, Sr.,’s fury and fists, and she was the boy’s comfort. Odessa was the first to know that her son was hyperverbal and quick with a left hand. As she once recalled, “He was always a talker. He tried to talk so hard when he was a baby. He used to jabber so, you know? And people’d laugh and he’d shake his face and jabber so fast. I don’t see how anybody could talk so fast, just like lightning. And he never sat still. He was in the bed with me at six months old, and you know how babies stretch? He had little muscle arms and he hit me in the mouth when he stretched and it loosened my front tooth and it affected my other front tooth and I had to have both of them pulled out. So I always say his first knockout punch was in my mouth.”

    “They stand around and say, ‘Good fight, boy: you’re a good boy; good goin’,” Ali said, in 1970. “They don’t look at fighters to have brains. They don’t look at fighters to be businessmen, or human, or intelligent. Fighters are just brutes that come to entertain the rich white people. Beat up on each other and break each other’s noses, and bleed, and show off like two little monkeys for the crowd, killing each other for the crowd. And half the crowd is white. We’re just like two slaves in that ring. The masters get two of us big old black slaves and let us fight it out while they bet: ‘My slave can whup your slave.’ That’s what I see when I see two black people fighting.” It was almost as if Ali, at the height of his fame, was hinting that we were all complicit in something fallen and dubious, even as we were rooting him on.

    What modern athlete, much less one at Ali’s level, has ever talked with such political complexity, ambiguity, or engagement?

    When I was doing the research for my book on Ali, I interviewed one of his main early antagonists in the ring, Floyd Patterson, who was clearly suffering from trauma-induced dementia. Patterson could barely string a few sentences together. Sonny Liston, his other early rival, had died years earlier with heroin on him. Ali, for his part, was living with his wife, Lonnie, at their farm, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He was suffering from Parkinson’s, and it was hard to believe that the accumulation of punishment (from Frazier, from Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, from a lifetime of beatings) had not been at least partially responsible for his condition. But he refused any note of regret. We watched films of his fights with Liston and couldn’t help admiring his younger self: “Sooo pretty!” More than a generation after his retirement, and now, after his passing, Ali and his story remain known everywhere in the world. How many today know the name of his current inheritor, the heavyweight champion of the world? The story of Muhammad Ali will long outlast the sport he took up, sixty-two years ago in Louisville, to avenge the theft of his beloved red bicycle.

    One last thing: at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley tonight, Paul Simon was singing “The Boxer.” Pausing before the final verse, he told the audience, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but Muhammad Ali just passed away.”

  2. Aram Goudsouzian, Quartz: Remembering “The Greatest” boxer Muhammad Ali, dead at age 74

    First, remember that his country once hated him.

    Back when Muhammad Ali was still Cassius Clay, he boasted and preened and improvised ridiculous poems. He violated all the conventions that the US expected of its athletes. White Americans laughed him off as a gregarious goofball. But in 1964, he beat the heavily favored Sonny Liston and became the champion of the world. We invested that position with massive significance. In the 1960s, the heavyweight division was the stage for a morality play on race, with black boxers in all the starring roles. Floyd Patterson was the Good Negro, a well-meaning integrationist. Sonny Liston was the Dark Menace, a terrifying ex-con with connections to the mob. But who the hell was Cassius Clay?

    “I am the greatest!” he proclaimed from inside the ring, as microphones poked close to his mouth. “I shook up the world! I’m the greatest thing that ever lived. I don’t have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest! I showed the world! I talk to God every day! I’m the king of the world!”

    The next morning, he confirmed that he had joined the Nation of Islam. Within weeks, he claimed the name of Muhammad Ali. Most whites perceived his religion as a vile, sinister sect. Sportswriters fretted that he was a terrible role model, calling him a wicked mouthpiece for racist hate. They kept referring to him as Cassius Clay. Before a 1965 bout between the two men, Floyd Patterson claimed that he would bring “the title back to America.” Ali beat him, trash-talking throughout the rout: “Come on America! Come on white America!”

    In 1967, Ali refused induction into the Vietnam War. “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” he said in a famous off-hand remark. Politicians now branded him an unpatriotic disgrace. The FBI kept him under surveillance. The State Department rescinded his passport. Boxing authorities stripped him of his title. The broad swath of white middle America failed to understand him as a man of principle, just as they failed to understand the forces roiling within Black America. They made flawed assumptions about race and religion, and they hated him.

    Remember that he was beautiful.

    More than his perfect proportions and striking features, Ali toyed with our conventions of masculinity. He was the greatest fighter in the world, the ultimate symbol of manhood, and he called himself “pretty.”

    He was a beautiful boxer. It is a brutal sport, by definition, but one that demands technical precision and artistic creativity. Ali possessed all the necessary skills, along with an unprecedented combination of size, speed, and grace. When he was exiled, he was at the height of his powers, with a 29-0 record. Like other black athletes of his era–Jim Brown in football, Bill Russell in basketball, Curt Flood in baseball–he altered his sport’s expectations of what was possible.

    He had a beautiful spirit, too. He was not perfect. But he lit up around people. He told jokes, recited poems, teased adults, and kissed children. Just hours after the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, when he managed an extraordinary triumph over George Foreman, Ali was back at his rural training compound in N’Sele, sitting on the front stoop, performing magic tricks for a group of adoring children. Ali was just as happy as the kids. There was something pure about him, and he touched something inside us.

    In the end, remember that he was beloved.


  3. Ich erinnere mich, dass mein Vater, überhaupt kein Boxfan, tatsächlich dieses eine Mal für rumble in the jungle nachts den TV einschaltete und ich neugierig um die Ecke linste, weil diese nächtliche Eskapade so außergewöhnlich war. Er muss erkannt haben, was das für ein außergewöhnlicher Mann war.

    Grüßle, Diander

    • Mein Vater auch…;-)…
      Er hielt Muhammad Ali allerdings weniger für einen „außergewöhnlichen Mann“„, sondern für ein ‚Großmaul‘, obwohl er um keinen Preis einen seiner Kämpfe verpasste. Er mißbilligte Wehrdienstverweigerung, Namenswechsel, Konversion zum Islam, den Stolz, schwarz zu sein und er hatte vermutlich auch keinen Sinn für Alis Rap-Vorwegnahmen.

  4. Gestern in der Nacht habe ich zum ersten Mal die vollständige Übertragung von „Rumble in the Jungle“ angeschaut und war verblüfft. Die kurzen Snippets, die ich bis dahin gesehen hatte, waren die zu einem Muhammad Ali, der in den Seilen hing und schließlich nur ein paar Glückstreffer landete, die ihm zum Sieg verhalfen.

    Die nun ersichtliche Strategie war, ob nun spontane Eingabe oder vorüberlegt, die des Begründers des Judo, Jigorō Kanō, nach der Art des Schilfes oder der Weide: „Akiyama Shirobei Yoshitoki (Arzt und Begründer des Ju-Jitsu) beobachtete, wie im Winter nach einem sehr starken Schneefall, in seinem Garten, die Äste des Kirschbaumes unter der Last der Schneemassen brachen, während die Äste der daneben stehenden Weide sich so lange herunterbogen, bis der Schnee den Halt verlor und abglitt, sich aber dann rasch wieder aufrichteten. Er gab, das Verhalten der Weidenzweige nachahmend, seiner Fertigkeit den Namen JU-JITSU, die auf dem Nachgeben basierende Kunst.“ Kanō machte daraus eine Schule für das Studium des Weges.

    Leider ist das nicht überliefert, womit sich Muhammad Ali nach Foreman der zweiten Last entledigte: Die Bemerkung, die das Lächeln im Gesicht von Don King gefrieren ließ und er, erkennbar eingeschüchtert, rückwärts gehend sich im Ring vom Sieger entfernte.

    • George Foreman on why Muhammad Ali was so much more than a ‚boxer‘:

      I was over-confident when I fought him. I’d gone through fighters who’d beaten him, such as Joe Frazier and Kenny Norton. All I thought was, “Should I be merciful or not?” I thought he was just one more knockout victim until, about the seventh round, I hit him hard to the jaw and he held me and whispered in my ear: “That all you got, George?” I realised that this ain’t what I thought it was.

      I’d never lost before. I was so high with this power that for years I was in denial; they cheated me, I got tricked, something was wrong. Then, in 1981, a reporter came to my ranch and asked me: “What happened in Africa, George?” I had to look him in the eye and say, “I lost. He beat me.” Before that I had nothing but revenge and hate on my mind, but from then on it was clear. I’ll never be able to win that match, so I had to let it go.

  5. David Smith, The Observer (mit einem sehr schönen Video)

    Asked once about his preferred legacy, Ali said: “I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right.

    “As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him … who stood up for his beliefs … who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.

    “And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

  6. Na ja. Wenn ich mir die Boxszene so anschaue und meinen Focus besonders auf die ersten Zuschauerreihen richte, sehe ich die sogenannte „Halbwelt“. Ein Publikum, das sich daran berauscht, wenn der Gegner ins Koma geprügelt wird. K.O. Als ehemaliger Judoka habe ich prinzipiell nichts gegen Zweikampfsportarten. Die körperliche Unversehrtheit der Kämpfer sollte aber Priorität haben.

    Ach! Noch etwas zu Ali und Parkinson: Dementia pugilistica auch Chronisch-traumatische Enzephalopathie (CTE) Boxerenzephalopathie, faustkämpferisches Parkinson-Syndrom, Boxer-Syndrom oder Punch-Drunk-Syndrom ist eine neurale Dysfunktion, die nach häufigen Schlägen oder Stößen auf den Kopf auftritt. Mithin war er ein Opfer des Boxsport. Dementia pugilistca wird auch bei älteren Fussballern diagnostiziert (Kopfbälle), z. B. Gerd Müller.


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