It was a long day March 8th 1971 was. All of us, kids and grownups alike, we had watched and waited, joked, fought, and prophesied who would win what became known as “The Fight of the Century.” Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier. It was the greatest boxing match ever presented to a TV audience. The year 1971 was when I began to learn heroism is not always about winning. Being a hero is about giving.
We live in a world so busy now, our lives literally inundated by not only sports stories, but marketing and advertising blitzes, mobile ring tones, horns and sirens so numerous it’s a wonder anyone can think at all. It was not always so. Once upon a time the hype machine heralded heroes instead of creating them. By way of illustration, of the battles between Ali and Frazier, something Sports Illustrated writer Richard Hoffer wrote when Joe Frazier passed away encapsulates sports legend:
“Such violent affairs, such protracted examples of desperation, that any seasons lived beyond them have to be considered a kind of boxing gravy. They were not heavyweight title fights so much as near-death experiences, a brutally choreographed and lightly regulated self-destruction, their pride and ambition so inflamed that survival was no longer part of either fighter’s plan.”
Fast forward past George Foreman and the so called “Rumble In the Jungle”, Frazier again in the “Thriller in Manila”, Ken Norton, a chiseled chunk of ebony in Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, champions and titans all, meet a retired Muhammad Ali.
The man knocked down by “Smokin Joe” Frazier back in ’71 got back on his feet. He always has.
Just as he did in boxing and sports, Ali redefined our idea of “retirement” too. Parkinson’s in ’84, still a peacekeeper in Iraq in ’91, lighting the Olympic flame in ’96. Who among us can forget that eloquent moment in sport? Charities, fundraisers, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, no one has done more.
The Olympics of London 2012. A trembling figure helped to his feet stands before 85,000 and a queen, a billion human beings wait in silence, and then Ali touches Olympic history again. What could be more compelling, more inspirational?
During the London games Muhammad Ali launched Generation Ali. A global movement to make still more positive contributions to society, this latest and possibly greatest fight for Ali is based on the same principle of GIVING Ali has used his celebrity for. Now Generation Ali launches a unique initiative, a Social Cause YouTube Contest that Ali hopes will inspire a new generation to promote giving and working towards positive change in the world.
What does one do when called upon? Forty one years from now you can say a living legend showed you how courage is not all about winning, but about giving of one’s self.
Visit the Muhammad Ali Center or Generation Ali online on Facebook. You don’t have to be famous to make a difference, just willing to achieve your own greatness through what Ali calls his six core principles: conviction, confidence, dedication, respect, giving, and spirituality.
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