The other day I got caught up in some “discussions” on the subject of Sports vs The Arts. I’m not a huge sports fan but I do enjoy the concept of the game and of competition itself. This is not an endorsement of “militarism 101,” as a certain friend of mine will insist. If anything, fair sports play tends to defuse belligerence and violent hostility rather than promote it. Although, I do agree with her that the NFL is a crock of capitalistic shit and, furthermore, it’s my opinion that professional American sports are headed for a toppling of financial importance. But that’s a whole ‘nother rant, and I’m not here to inflict the evils of the game onto its players. Heroes or villains, they’re human beings who have their own share of problems that most non-players won’t understand.
Another friend, who I didn’t suspect of having any affinity for sports, put on the table the words of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton:
“…I just want to become relatable, you know what I’m saying? It’s bigger than race. It’s more so of opening up a door for guys that don’t want to be labeled, that have bigger views and say: ‘Well, I’m in this situation, I’m living in this environment right now, but I also want to be an artist, I want to be a poet. But I don’t have the means, you know, to necessarily do the right things at this point.’ As for me, I just want to give those people hope.”
Smart man. Sounds like he’s got some stories to tell and I hope he writes them down. I’ll read that book, just as I’ve read classic sports writing by guys like Roger Angell and Troy Soos (whose novel “Hanging Curve” I recommend highly). But this whole thing made me remember the poetry of one of America’s greatest athletes and, like it or not, purveyors of pugilism, Muhammad Ali. I don’t care what anyone says, Ali’s poetry was easily on par with the comic verse of Ernest Thayer:
“I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale;
Handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail;
Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick;
I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
“Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat.
If Liston goes back an inch farther, he’ll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings to the left, Clay swings to the right!
Look at Cassius carry the fight!
Liston keeps backing, but there’s not enough room.
It’s a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom.
Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing!
And the punch raises the bear clear out of the ring.
Yes the crowd did not dream when they laid down their money
that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”
Once reviled, the man persevered and proved he was a king. He remains so. The Lord of The Ring. A great American who stood up, ready to fight for what he believed, and knew how he wanted to be remembered:
“I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness, he took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then he mixed willingness with happiness. He added lots of faith and he stirred it up well. Then he spread it over the span of a lifetime and he served to each and every deserving person he met.”
I salute you, Muhammad. Against the world may you have the last word:
“I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be who I wanna be and think what I wanna think.”