The Trials of Muhammad Ali
We in America don’t expect all that much from our professional athletes. But we do expect patriotism. Heaven help you if you don’t demonstrate patriotism.
As a pro athlete, you’re allowed to beat people up on the field, off the field, and even in your home and all is forgiven pretty quickly. You can be a known drug addict and still be the most popular Giants linebacker of all time. Even if everyone knows you did PEDs a few years ago, you can still be the most beloved baseball player in New England.
But if you remain seated during the national anthem, you become the most talked about and most hated athlete in America very quickly.
I have mixed feelings about Colin Kaepernick and his infamous #blacklivesmatter protest.
On one hand, I’d be more excited if Kaepernick was fighting for #ABlackLivingWageMatters or #KeepBlackFamiliesTogether because these issues affect a lot more people.
On the other hand, I respect a man’s need to follow his conscience and stand up for what he believes. Even if it means sitting down.
“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is a documentary about the most famous athlete protestor of all. If you think that it is never acceptable for a sportsman to criticize the United States, this movie may change your mind.
Cassius Clay was a loud-mouthed abrasive rebel by nature. In his early interviews as a teenage Olympic champion and upstart professional fighter, Clay mostly focuses on himself in his boastful interviews.
Right around the time Clay became Heavyweight Champion at age 22, he learned about the Nation of Islam. At that point, Clay became Muhammad Ali: a loud-mouthed abrasive rebel with a cause.
In the post-9/11 world, any film about a Muslim has to justify, to some extent, why its lead character chose Islam. “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” does a convincing job of arguing that Ali wasn’t attracted to the Koran or any particular tenant of the religion.
Ali was convinced by Elijah Muhammad’s description of Christianity as the religion of white slavers and oppressors. In contrast, Islam was the #1 religion of the brown people of the world. So, Muhammad Ali became a proud Muslim in name. But he certainly was never fasting during Ramadan or praying toward Mecca five times a day.
Muhammad Ali first angered America by brashly tossing its religion aside. But he really became public enemy #1 in 1967 when he refused to join the military. And if dodging the draft wasn’t unpopular enough, the reasons he gave were even more shocking.
Ali said that he felt more kinship with the North Vietnamese than with Americans. He said that the war was just another extension of the White Man’s effort to oppress the non-whites of the world. In other words: Ali wasn’t just a non-combatant; he wasn’t even rooting for us.
Muhammad Ali was stripped of his championship title and his boxing license. He wasn’t just hated, he was unemployed and desperate.
The most triumphant part of the film isn’t when Muhammad Ali became champion; it’s the part where he dealt with the struggle of being humbled and impoverished.
To make ends meet, Ali signed on to do appearances on talk shows and college campuses. It’s painful to see the uneducated Ali verbally bullied by more knowledgeable white adversaries.
After a year of constant touring, however, Ali became sharper and wittier. He became as good a fighter outside of the ring as he was inside of it.
Ultimately, he won back America’s respect. He had the guts to stand up for what he believed. And he was able to defend his stance eloquently and confidently. We’ll see if Colin Kaepernick ever succeeds in doing that.
As for me: even though I have several major issues with the United States government, I always stand for the National Anthem. And I always will. Does that make me a better man than Colin Kaepernick? A better patriot than Colin Kaepernick? Or a coward.