THE ETERNAL MUHAMMAD
Why, after all these years, does Ali continue to fascinate us?
Muhammad Ali may be the most puzzling personality of our time. A
quarter of a century after his athletic heyday, he continues to
intrigue us, his celebrity self-sustaining, mysteriously
independent of any word or deed. How is it that Ali remains such
a mesmerizing presence?
Our old heroes have profited mightily in a culture of nostalgia,
so much that no onetime superstar athlete need ever be poor as
long as he can sign his name. Ali's appeal, though, goes beyond
mere athletic homesickness. Besides the affection he enjoys,
there's a genuine curiosity. Recent books and the new feature
film Ali have strained to put his life in a social context, to
make his race and religion part of a complicated story, in a
complicated time. It's a good approach, and it's genuine. Ali's
refusal to enter the draft during the Vietnam War and his
subsequent exile from boxing surely added backstory to the
elaborate drama he always preferred for himself. To regain the
heavyweight championship after the U.S. took a three-year chunk
out of his prime because he had "no quarrel with the Vietcong,"
or perhaps simply because he was black and a Muslim, well, that's
Does that account, however, for his position in our society
today, the shuffling Yoda who seems to leave nothing but serenity
in his wake (page 124)? Ali's politics, even if they were his to
begin with (he fell under the sway of Elijah Muhammad of the
Nation of Islam early on), don't seem terribly important after
all this time, except for the fact that he embraced them despite
the prevailing public and legal opinion. His sacrifice was
personally noble but hardly historically monumental. He wasn't
irrelevant by any means; a country can certainly be altered by
the accretion of such self-sacrifice. But he wasn't Martin Luther
King, nor did he ever pretend to be.
December 24, 2001
Ali was something much more interesting, at least as far as
history ought to be concerned. He was original, all
self-invention. His rhymes, his rope-a-dope, his ability to
transform turmoil into a carnival act--these were riffs on top
of the bass line of his time. A fantastic jazz. They were of a
piece: the verbal high jinks, the right hand to George Foreman's
jaw, his induction stance, the one not more important than the
other. That was his genius, and the historians who insist upon
significance miss the point. Ali wasn't some social artifact; he
was much rarer than that. Just one of a kind is all.
A few of the many Ali-related products and events headed your
On Jan. 16 CBS will air Muhammad Ali's 60th Birthday Celebration;
Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and other stars and musical
acts will be on hand.
Urban fashion designer FUBU is putting out an Ali-inspired line
of sportswear. The collection features shirts and jackets
emblazoned with silk-screen images of the Greatest as well as
some of his more famous quotes ("I'm the prettiest thing that
Universal will release the documentary Muhammad Ali: Through the
Eyes of the World on videotape and DVD on Jan. 29. Highlights
include fight footage and interviews with Nelson Mandela and Paul
Columbia TriStar has put out a DVD version of the 1977 feature
film The Greatest. Ali stars as himself, and Ernest Borgnine
appears as trainer Angelo Dundee.
THE GEORGE O'LEARY INCIDENT
George O'Leary's CV was so doctored, it's a wonder it didn't come
wrapped in bandages. Last week O'Leary's tenure as Notre Dame
coach ended after five days, when he admitted having lied on his
resume. According to his bio O'Leary had earned three letters as
a football player at New Hampshire and had earned a master's
degree in education at NYU. In fact he never played a down for
New Hampshire, and he took only a few courses at NYU.
O'Leary called the misrepresentations a youthful indiscretion.
"In seeking employment, I prepared a resume that contained
inaccuracies," he said in announcing his resignation. "These
misstatements were never stricken from my resume...in later
years." By losing the Notre Dame job, O'Leary forfeited a chance
to be part of a grand football tradition. He did, however, assume
a place in the curious fraternity of sports' resume padders:
AL MARTIN Last May, while speaking to a reporter for The Seattle
Times, the Mariners outfielder reminisces about his days as a USC
safety and recalls one hard-hitting play in particular. Although
Seattle's media guide does cite his football feats, follow-up
shows that Martin never attended USC. Martin promises he'll
provide proof of his Trojan gridiron exploits but never does.
KERRY MILLER Following a 3-27 debut season as Iowa State's
volleyball coach, Miller resigns in April 1999 after the Ames
Tribune reports she wasn't a triple letter-winner and an
All-America at Arizona, as her bio claims. Miller did briefly
attend Arizona but played only 13 matches.
TIM JOHNSON While trying to pump up his players during the 1998
season, the Blue Jays' manager recounts his combat deeds in
Vietnam. But when pressed for details by reporters, Johnson, a
marine reservist, admits he never served in Vietnam. He also
wasn't an All-America high school hoops player, as the Toronto
media guide states. Before the start of the '99 season, Johnson
JON CLARK In March 1996 Clark, the British-born coach of the U.S.
men's field hockey team, admits that instead of having played 147
games for the British team that earned an Olympic bronze in 1984,
as his bio states, he'd only played 15 games. Clark, who keeps
his job, says he fibbed to impress his players. They respond by
going winless in the Atlanta Games.
Sport? Not a Sport?
THIS WEEK: JAI ALAI
SPORT "People bet on it, so it's like dog racing. They've got a
ball and they've got a little wand, so it's like cricket. And
both of those are called sports." --Keith Askins, Heat assistant
SPORT "They have a ball, a banana for a mitt, and they jump off
the walls like in The Matrix."
--Trevor Pryce, Broncos defensive tackle
SPORT "There's athleticism involved, and the end result is never
known [in advance] by those participating. It may not be an
American sport, but it's still a sport." --Greg Anthony, Bulls
SPORT "Definitely a sport. There's a lot of hand-eye coordination
necessary and a real potential to get seriously injured." --Raja
Bell, 76ers guard
NOT A SPORT "I went to it once and couldn't figure out if it was
fixed or real." --Jim McMahon, former NFL quarterback
SPORT "That ball is really humming. I don't think it would be fun
to get hit by it." --Mike Schmidt, Baseball Hall of Famer
NOT A SPORT "What's Jai Alai?"
--Chris Gatling, Heat forward
With the new year approaching, it's time for a new calendar. Why
settle for that bank giveaway when the world of sports affords so
many colorful selections?
Calendar: Rugby Chicks Description: Racy portraits of female
ruggers from across the nation. Don't miss: March, featuring
Jane, a hooker-flanker from Colorado. ("Favorite beverage:
strawberry margaritas and anything with Kahlua.")
Calendar: Purina 2002 Cat Chow Description: A fund-raiser for
Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, starring cat-loving
celebrities like Chris Evert and Albert Pujols. Don't miss: May's
models Michael Jordan and Sweet Potato, who Jordan says "keeps
cool, no matter what."
Calendar: Feminine Frames Description: Subtitled "The Art of
Mountain Biking," each month showcases a black-and-white photo of
a nude female cyclist. "It's strong yet feminine," says Frames's
photographer, Mara Rago. "It's all about art and the female
form." Don't miss: July, with adventure racer Suzan Falvey
wearing nothing but strategically placed inner tubes.
Calendar: Words Are No Longer Necessary Description: Glamour
shots of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and model-actress LisaRaye
(The Wood) in assorted poses (typical shot: Lewis astride a
Harley). Don't miss: The cover, featuring Lewis and Raye dressed
like ancient Egyptians.
Calendar: Stone Nudes Description: Artistic shots of nude
climbers (male and female) caught in action (above, right). Says
Stone photographer Dean Fidelman, "Once you see how the nude
body adapts to the rock, you see it mimics the topography."
Don't miss: July, depicting a male climber in a particularly
The Jets have adopted Shrek as their unofficial mascot this
season because, like the animated ogre, they're big, green and
ugly but (hope to) stand victorious in the end. Given the 78,000
fans who showed up on Sunday for Shrek Day at Giants Stadium,
where the Jets edged the Bengals 15-14, other sports teams might
want to think about following the Jets' lead and take on a 'toon
TEAM: Diamondbacks QUALITIES: Well-oiled machine led by
productive duo: a tall, scary-looking one, and his rounder,
funnier sidekick ANIMATED EQUIVALENT: Monsters, Inc.
TEAM: Mavericks QUALITIES: Oversized men in blue; schizophrenic
play; slaves to all-powerful master ANIMATED EQUIVALENT:
TEAM: Notre Dame QUALITIES: Strong British Isles connection;
omnipresent television cameras; currently without grown-up
supervision ANIMATED EQUIVALENT: Teletubbies
TEAM: Vikings QUALITIES: Whiny and immature; often get into
trouble; at home on artificial turf ANIMATED EQUIVALENT: Rugrats
TEAM: Wizards QUALITIES: A group of lost boys; leader refuses to
grow up; residents of "never-say-never" land ANIMATED EQUIVALENT:
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's daily briefing, by
Diamondbacks pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. The
pitchers, who with their teammates were in the White House to be
congratulated by President Bush for having won the World Series,
burst in unannounced to tease Fleischer, a die-hard Yankees fan.
Announced Fleischer, "These are the world champion Arizona
Diamondbacks, I'm chagrined to report."
Off the pitch, an unnamed Kosovar soccer player on the Belgian
club Hasselt VV who saw a police car pull up and feared,
erroneously, that he was about to be deported. Said the opposing
coach, "We were gaining the play when a player on Hasselt VV
started to run, jumped over the fences and disappeared into the
woods." The player later returned to the game.
Into God's hands, Kent Harvey, the former Indiana student, who
was verbally assaulted last year by then Hoosiers basketball
coach Bob Knight, after Harvey greeted him with, "What's up,
Knight?" Harvey says the ensuing controversy, which led to
Knight's dismissal and Harvey's receiving death threats, prompted
him to swear off alcohol, cursing and sex. Says Harvey, "I guess
meeting Bob Knight has brought me to the Lord."
From the helmets of a peewee hockey team in Ottawa, stickers of
the Canadian and U.S. flags that had been affixed in memory of
victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Canadian Hockey
Association officials believe the glue from the stickers could
weaken the headgear.
By the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a Top Fuel dragster
that will bear the MADD logo while competing on the NHRA circuit,
which is funded in part by alcohol sponsors.
The Crying Game
There's no crying in sports. Unless you're a retiring athlete. Or
you're being inducted into a hall of fame. Or you just lost a
playoff game. O.K., so there's lots of crying in sports. In the
last week alone Jason Giambi got misty-eyed while donning his new
Yankees jersey, and Nuggets coach Dan Issel choked up while
apologizing for shouting an ethnic slur at a fan. Here's a look
at some of this year's notable weepers, along with a rating of
how justified their tears were, on a scale of 1 to 5 crybabies.
Ray Bourque, former NHL defenseman Teary moments: When he hoisted
the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 22-year career on June
9; when he announced his retirement, on June 26; when the Bruins
retired his jersey, on Oct. 4; when the Avalanche played a video
of his career highlights, on Nov. 24. Rating: We can understand
the Stanley Cup moment--but after a jumbo-screen video? (4
Matt Doherty, North Carolina hoops coach Teary moments: After the
Tar Heels beat Wake Forest on a last-second shot on Jan. 6; after
they lost to Penn State in the second round of the NCAAs. ("It
was a frustrating game," lamented Doherty.) Rating: Deano never
bawled like this. (5 crybabies)
Barry Bonds, Giants outfielder Teary moment: At the press
conference following his record-breaking 71st homer. Rating: The
stress of the chase caused Roger Maris to lose his hair in
clumps, so we won't begrudge Bonds a few tears. (1 crybaby)
Troy Aikman, former Cowboys quarterback Teary moments: Several
times during his April retirement press conference. (Much of his
speech was inaudible due to his blubbering.) Rating: Three Super
Bowls, countless millions, and you get to retire at 34? We do not
feel your pain. (3 crybabies)
Dick Vermeil, Chiefs coach Teary moments: When he was introduced
as the Kansas City coach in January; after the Chiefs defeated
the Broncos in overtime on Sunday. ("Excuse me," he said, trying
to regain his composure. "I'm proud of these guys.") Rating:
Here we go again: Two years ago, as coach of the Rams, he wept
seemingly nonstop through St. Louis's Super Bowl season. (5
Subtlety has never been a hallmark of British tabloids. Take
this recent headline from London's Daily Mail: THE TENNIS WORLD
TOOK ME FOR A LESBIAN. BUT I'VE BEEN MARRIED, WIDOWED AND AM
ABOUT TO BECOME MRS. 007. Readers who took the bait--and who in
his right mind wouldn't--learned that former tennis player Pam
Shriver, 39, has gotten engaged to Australian actor George
Lazenby, 62, best known for playing James Bond in 1969's On Her
Majesty's Secret Service. Shriver, whose previous husband,
lawyer Joe Shapiro, died of cancer in 1999, met Lazenby when she
was a teenager during a tournament in Australia. They
reconnected when mutual friends brought them together at
Wimbledon in 2000. "We're at different stages of our lives,"
says Shriver. "But it works." Shriver says the wedding will
probably be "sometime in the middle of next year."...
Hollywood, always a fast town, is about to become faster. Dennis
Quaid, who stars as Jim Morris, the pitcher who reached the
majors as a 35-year-old in 1999, in Disney's upcoming feature
The Rookie, is developing a film project about the life of
NASCAR driver Richard Petty. The movie will center on the
strained relationship between Petty (right) and his father, Lee,
also a stock car driver. Meanwhile, NBC has two NASCAR-themed
series in the works. The first, set in the world of stock car
racing, is being written and directed by Sylvester Stallone. The
other project is being developed by screenwriter Gary Scott
Thompson (The Fast and the Furious). It will focus on the family
lives of two NASCAR drivers....
On the subject of upcoming nuptials, now that new Yankee Jason
Giambi (page 46) has taken care of his career plans, he's
getting his personal life in order. Giambi will wed fiancee
Kristian Rice in February, and the couple hopes to have children
soon. "I'd like them to see their dad play baseball," Rice says,
"instead of telling them about it." Giambi and Rice have looked
into places to live on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Olympic hockey teams that Finnish forward Raimo Helminen, 37, has
been named to, an international record.
Average salary for major league baseball designated hitters, more
than $1 million higher than at any other position.
Career games that Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady believes he
has won, through Sunday; the NCAA lists 480 wins because Purdue
forfeited 19 games in 1995-96 stemming from violations that
didn't involve Keady.
Sacks of cement that the Turkish soccer club Canakcispor traded
to rival Sarigol Municipality for four players; said a Sarigol
spokesman, "They got four good players. We repaired the stadium."
Reimbursement for medical and funeral expenses sought by Saundra
Adams in a wrongful-death lawsuit against Rae Carruth, the former
Carolina Panther who last January was convicted of conspiracy to
murder Saundra's daughter, Cherica.
From the Dec. 11 New York Times: Soccer Found Safer with Smaller
Anyone who's had to stand in a penalty-kick wall knew that.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The father of a 15-year-old boy who was cut from the varsity
basketball team at Logan High in Union City, Calif., is suing the
school district for $1.5 million because he says his son's
chances of earning NBA riches have been damaged.
"It's strong yet feminine. It's about art and the female form."
They Said It
Baseball Hall of Famer on how glad he is that contraction wasn't
an option during his playing days: "I played on some bad teams,
man. We would have been contracted before the All-Star break."