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Foster's Fairplay | Fight for blacks was Ali’s greatest

Published:Monday | June 13, 2016 | 6:00 PMLaurie Foster

The recent passing of the boxing icon, Muhammad Ali, has elicited expansive tributes from several interest levels. The label 'Greatest Sportsman ever' is affixed, not without honest justification.
The former world heavyweight champion had danced, talked and with extreme pugilistic gifts, nestled himself into the hearts and minds of a multitude of admirers, when the subject of sports was up for discussion.
There can be no valid argument that his performance within and external to the entertainment arena, far transcends that of a mere sporting personality.
Cassius Clay, who transitioned - courtesy of his embracing the Muslim faith - to Muhammad Ali, was last weekend laid to eternal rest in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. What was not interred with him are the inner thoughts put into words that earned him the title of the Louisville Lip.
The sporting frontiers are inundated with players who use or are used by others to build a particular image. This is almost invariably, a ploy to advance commercial concerns. Simply put, to market and sell a product.
A lot of funds and attendant enticements change location in pursuit of these exploits. It used to be called advertising and the objective is two-fold. The item must be riveted in the minds of even the non believers and the benefit to the conceptualisers and/or producers must exceed their initial input. In recent times, the term is branding.
So what was the brand espoused by Muhammad Ali, this giant of a sports figure, whose life is now being celebrated.


MAXIMUM ADVANTAGE


Here was a man who took maximum advantage of a global platform to advance the often sidelined causes of and establish greater respect and recognition for the Black Race, of which, to cite a political term, he was proud to be a card-carrying member.
Ali came under the public microscope at a time when people of his colour were denied basic human rights, that are now taken for granted.
From his prestigious position as the world's sporting leader, he was not happy with what was being handed out to his people. On their behalf, he fought back. He grabbed the spotlight of his elevated status and raved and ranted to make black people proud of their existence and value.
His reign as champion of the sporting world coincided with the compulsory army service placed before those physically fit and able to go to the battlefields to represent America. Ali saw that as an imposition which he would not support.
Killing people because his government said so was never going to be his thing. The champ faced imprisonment for this belief. It was the sternest and most arduous test of his fighting skills, but like any other, he embraced it.
One must remember that the Ali period gave birth to black-skinned individuals who opposed and fought the system which marginalised them. It turned them against society, promoting and developing an activism that had dire effects. It was the era of Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, the Soledad Brothers and that female warrior with the afro-style hair do, Angela Davis.
A few paid the supreme sacrifice, as they met their end fighting against the injustices which pervaded the American landscape.
Ali was fortunate that a stage was created on which he could play a meaningful role in his attempts to cauterise what was seen to be evil in his eyes.


TRUE SAVIOUR


From world boxing hero, the man who was chosen to light the Olympic flame when the great show came to Atlanta, transformed himself into a true saviour for his own people. He had, previous to his 1996 duty, ignited them to acts and thoughts, hitherto unthinkable. He set black people on a path to discover their own greatness. He showed them that their wildest dreams of personal achievement need not be consigned to a scrap heap and there to atrophy and die.
Muhammad Ali was a symbol of hope for black people, far beyond the confines of the boxing ring. He created opportunities for the black race to excel.
That, in addition to magnificence within those four lengths of rope, is how Foster's Fairplay wishes him to be remembered.
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