Muhammad Ali passed away Friday night, June 3, 2016. I wrote the article below around the year 2000.
I got to know him fairly well in the 1980’s, when I was Vice President of the Boxing Writers Association. He was a real friendly man, and we had several nice conversations about what I have written below.
Still, his death doesn’t change what he was, and what he did early in his career.
I know I’m going to get a lot of heat for this, but it is with a heavy heart that I stand by what is written below.
It’s just the truth, and a man’s death doesn’t change the truth.
Muhammad Ali Hero?—Not!!!!!!!
There’s a new phenomenon taking place in boxing, and in the news media in general, which I’ll gracefully call revisionist history. I’m talking about the way the so-called media portrays one of the most controversial figures of all time – Muhammad Ali.
Former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali may have been great fighter, but he was also a shameless draft dodger, who refused to fight for his country in the Vietnam War.
If you say the United States didn’t belong in Vietnam–I agree. If you say it was a stupid war, a war we couldn’t win — I also agree. I didn’t like the war any more than Ali did, but me and hundreds of thousands of other men like me, black, white, or whatever, went into the United States armed service because it was our duty to our country and to our families.
Ali’s refusal to be inducted wasn’t a black/white thing like he and his people tried to shove down our throats. Hundreds of thousand of white men chickened out and avoided service in Vietnam too.
Ali claimed to be a Muslim minister as his exemption to get out of the military draft. Ali was a minister like Al Sharpton is a Reverend and like Dr. Irwin Corey is a physician. The draft board rightfully saw through Ali’s charade and classified him one A. But this man, who had already gotten rich though the American system of free enterprise, adamantly refused to take the one symbolic step forward on the day he was drafted.
To me, that was not only traitorous, it was darn personal.
My own life was put on hold for almost eight years because of the Vietnam War. I graduated Cardinal Hayes high school in 1965, I wasn’t taking enough credits at Hunter College to avoid the draft because I had to work full time so I could buy food to eat and keep a roof over my head. So, as was prescribed by the rules of the draft, I received a 1A classification.
In 1966, I decided to join the Navy, which three of my uncles had already served in, rather than get drafted into the army. I did four years active duty and another two years reserve. I could’ve beaten the draft like other skells did. Some jerks erroneously claimed to be gay to beat the draft. Others put needles in their arms and said they were junkies so they would fail the physical. And still others like myself were too proud to do things so disgraceful and humiliating, so we did what we thought was the only right and honorable thing to do. We either joined, or we were inducted into the Armed Forces of the United States of America. My only other alternative was suicide, since my father and my uncles would’ve surely beaten me to death if I ever did anything offensive to myself, my family and my country.
Starting in 1969, I did an 11-month tour on the aircraft carrier Constellation in the Bay of Tonkin 40 miles off the coast of Vietnam. I was a parachute rigger, so once a week I had to fly by helicopter into De Nang to pack the chutes in their base parachute loft. I saw white men serving there in the worst of conditions, along with black men, Muslims, Catholics, Jews and Protestants and a couple of Lithuanians too. Men that didn’t want to be in Vietnam any more than I did, but went anyway because America, right or wrong, is still our country, and if you want to live here and enjoy what the best country in the world has to offer, you have obligations.
I’ll never forget the night Ali fought Joe Frazier for the first time in 1970. The fight was broadcast live on Armed Forces Radio in the middle of the night for us in Vietnam. I remember hundreds of us setting our alarms for 3 am, even though we were on 12-hour working shifts in the war zone for as long as 45 days in a row. We sat around radios in all parts of the Constellation and I don’t remember one man who was rooting for Ali to win. Every race, color and creed was rooting for Smokin’ Joe Frazier, not the big-mouthed, race-baiting, draft dodger, and when Smokin’ Joe landed his famous left hook that dropped Ali in the fifteenth round, the huge ship rocked with cheers.
For whatever flimsy reasons he and white-hating Muslim sect tried to concoct, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, and to me and millions like me, that’s the bottom line. You disgrace the memory of tens of thousands heroic Americans, black, white or whatever, who died in Vietnam and in every war before and since Vietnam, when you glorify the draft dodger, scoundrel, reprobate and the four-marriage adulterer Muhammad Ali definitely was. The pitiful condition he’s in now is sad, but has no relevance to the sins he committed back when he was, as he defiantly proclaimed —-The Greatest.
Thirty years have passed, and the sportswriters who railed against Ali’s treason in the 1960’s – men like Jimmy Cannon, Dick Young, and the great Red Smith – are all dead. The scribes still living are mostly the flower-child, pot-smoking, free-love, “peace man” types (Maynard G Krebs/Beatniks) and selective-memory airheads like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Frank Rich and Mollie Irvins. Others who choose to ignore Ali’s dark past are generally Jane Fonda/Country Joe Fish-types and Woodstock Generation lemmings, who watch MSNBC and read left-wing rags like the New York Times, The Village Voice and the Washington Post. Not to mention limousine-liberals like the Kennedys and Cuomos, who wouldn’t be caught dead being in the same building with the very people whose pain they supposedly feel.
Muhammad Ali was a great fighter, but he was a draft dodger and much worse. In my book he will never be a great American. He was certainly no Joe Louis, a black man who proudly served his country in World War II and was rightfully referred to by Jimmy Cannon as “a credit to his race — the human race.”
Ali is a credit to no one but himself. His war record, along with the alimony he is forced to pay to four ex-wives, tells me more about Muhammad Ali than anything he ever did in the ring.