I recently watched, on the Black Entertainment Television channel (BET), the funeral ceremony of the Great Champ, Muhammad Ali, which took place on June 10, 2016 in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky. Among the numerous soul-searching tributes paid the Champ, one has made its home in my mind. It is about a boxing match between two young boxers during one of the Summer Olympic Games in which Ali was a guest of honour. At the end of the match, the fans hoisted the victor on their shoulders and carried him round the hall, to thunderous applause from the crowd. The victor was an American and shouts of “USA! USA! USA!” shook the whole hall as patriotic feelings surged from every corner and reverberated throughout the country.
As Ali handed the trophy to the winner, the hall erupted with chants of “Ali! Ali! Ali!” that seemed to last forever. Shortly thereafter, Ali turned to his friend, the person paying the tribute, and asked to be taken to the loser. His friend was surprised and asked him why the loser when everyone’s attention was on the champion, who was being so loudly applauded. Ali insisted that he wanted to see the loser. When they walked into the backroom, they saw the dejected young man, sitting with a bloody nose, his head in his hands, with his coach and one or two other persons doing the best they could to comfort him and lift up his spirits. It was clear that the young man thought that the world was coming to an end, and that he was worth nothing because he felt he had let down his country and his people.
As soon as Ali and his friend walked in, the young man looked up, and jumped up in surprise, shouting “Muhammad Ali! Muhammed Ali!” In his characteristic style, Ali jumped back and forth and threw jabs at the young man who, in turn, returned the jabs. They both engaged in a mock match and then Ali grabbed him in a firm embrace and told him that, his defeat notwithstanding, he was still his hero. He advised the bemused young man not to think that being knocked down once meant the end of his life. He must bounce off the mat, shake off the dust and move on. The young man and those around him were completely overwhelmed by the presence and words of encouragement from none other than Muhammad Ali, the Greatest Champion of the boxing world. The young boxer, now smiling from ear-to-ear, nodded in gratitude, and it was clear to all that Ali had done wonders to raise his drooping spirits, an act the young man would likely never forget in his life. It was in such great acts of kindness to the downtrodden, recounted the narrator, that lay the greatness of the man, Muhammad Ali, the Champ!
We may not all be champions operating on the same platform as Ali, but we each have the ability to raise someone else’s spirits. It may not be in the dramatic Muhammad Ali-style but a simple gesture, like a smile, is sometimes all that it takes to get someone out of a depressed mood. A hug, where appropriate, or a mere tap on a friend’s shoulder when they are hurting, can do wonders to bring them back to the beauty of the world around them, a beauty they might not have known was there, or might have thought was gone forever. Can you also be a ‘Muhammad Ali’ to someone today?