Remembering Muhammad Ali, My Real Life Superman

Remembering Muhammad Ali, My Real Life Superman

by Michael P Coleman

I am having trouble conveying my sadness at the passing of Muhammad Ali.  I've lost so many that were a part of my childhood.  Walter Cronkite.  (Yeah, I was THAT kid.). Michael Jackson.  Christopher Reeve.  And just a few weeks ago, Prince.  But a week ago, when a notification popped up on my iPhone trumpeting Ali's death at 74, I froze.  I literally could not move.  I was uncharacteristically speechless.

It took me a few days to figure out why. 

Ali didn't just call himself The Greatest.  He was the greatest boxer we've known.  For this 70s kid, he was a modern day Joe Louis who had battled the ghosts of a challenging childhood on his way to winning the heavyweight champ title in 1964.   

ali articlecontentAt the height of his popularity, Ali opposed our country's involvement in the Vietnam War, and paid for his defiance with his championship belt and his livelihood, being barred from fighting for three years.  As he supported himself via speaking engagements at college campuses, popular opinion over Vietnam caught up with him, and over time vehemence levied his way subsided. 

Then, Ali did what was then perceived as impossible.  Past his prime as a professional boxer, he fought his way back into the ring, regaining his heavyweight champ title and, ultimately, our nation's heart. 

Muhammad Ali was one of my earliest childhood heroes.  More than a boxer, he was a sepia Superman who, I dreamed, was the one person alive who could have helped me battle my own childhood demons, including an alcoholic, abusive father.  After my drunken dad broke the skin on my behind with an extension cord, or turned his fist from me to my mother, I imagined -- I KNEW -- that Ali could have stopped him.  As an adolescent, I drew on Ali's inspiration as I stood up to my dad, toe to toe and fist to fist.  To my knowledge, he never tried to fight my mom again. 

As much as I admired Ali as a boxer, I joined the world in being enthralled by his bravado.  Simply put, Ali ALWAYS talked shit.  Big shit.  He wasn't just the greatest fighter, he told us:  he was also pretty!  As a young kid, I copied that persona, first talking myself out of the negative messages that I'd begun to internalize, then taking that bravado to school with me.   I later learned that Ali was self-conscious as well, and that his bravado was his method for talking himself into the victories he sought in the ring.  In some ways, I still employ that technique, when I'm facing a challenge and begin to doubt myself.

Ali inspired me once more as I watched him battle Parkinson's with grace and dignity.  I hope I can do the same, when my physical body begins to succumb to time and usage. 

So I am sad that this man, this legend, is gone.  I just watched another hero of mine, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, share his own memories of Ali, and I'm preparing to watch Ali’s funeral online.  When I call on the ancestors, as I often do when facing a challenge, Ali will absolutely be one of them.

Thank you, Muhammad Ali, and by all means, rest in peace.

FullSizeRenderThis article was written by Sacramento-based freelance writer Michael P Coleman. 

Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP