Editor’s note: In his eye-opening book, “Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King’s Dream,” Jack Cashill un-tells what may be the most mis-told story of the late 20th century – the heroic rise of boxer Muhammad Ali. This re-telling sheds bright new light on some slighted boxing greats like Joe Louis, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, and reveals the surprising role that Christianity has played in the sports culture. Muhammad Ali died June 3, 2016 at the age of 74. WND is re-running this story that first ran Feb. 17, 2006.
Muhammad Ali was changing in ways that few people saw or chose to see. He traces his hour of enlightenment to “around 1983.” It was only then that he became a “true believer.” Always more honest than the mythmakers around him, Ali sheds needed light here on his own reality. Before this moment, he confesses to biographer Tom Hauser, “I thought I was a true believer, but I wasn’t. I fit my religion to do what I wanted. I did things that were wrong, and chased women all the time.”
This is a stunning admission. It should inform the rest of the Hauser biography and all Ali biographies. Told honestly, these accounts should read like the “Confessions of St. Augustine” or the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” or even the George Foreman story. They should tell a story of a life that was largely squandered on race hatred and sexual exploitation until the protagonist is blinded by the light on his own personal road to Damascus.
“I conquered the world, and it didn’t bring me true happiness,” Ali admits. “The only true satisfaction comes from honoring and worshipping God.” The guardians of Ali’s myth, however, can write no such story. To do so, they would have to concede that Ali’s opposition to war was no more principled than his stance on extramarital sex. Were they to question his value system, they would have to question their own. Few among them were as willing as Ali to do so.
His chroniclers prefer to write his story as one of seamless virtue. In the retelling, the moment of self-awareness comes in the early 1960s and enlightens all that happens thereafter. Any subsequent incidents that might challenge the myth of the proud, black, independent Muslim hero are typically edited down to the nub or ignored. In 1965, of course, Ali put his still embryonic myth to the test by betraying Malcolm X. In 1984, he put his mature myth to an even more severe test when he publicly supported Ronald Reagan and even attended the Republican National Convention.
This should not have come as a shock. A majority of voters in 49 states – Massachusetts and New York included – voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. An overwhelming majority of those Americans, like Ali, who both worshiped God and paid high taxes supported Reagan. In his devotion to God and in his avoidance of drink and drugs and even dance, Ali could have fit right in with the “Moral Majority.”
Hauser is very nearly alone in even breaching the subject of Ali’s Republican affiliations, and he does so with unintentionally comic effect, to wit, “Then another problem arose.” Hauser admits that Ali supported both Reagan and later the senior George Bush, as well as a number of other Republican candidates, most notably Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese, a liberal bete noire, went so far as to call Ali a “great patriot.”
This turn of events “saddened” at least several of those who Hauser interviews. Andrew Young, U.N. Ambassador under Jimmy Carter, “bemoaned” Ali’s support for candidates “whose policies are harmful to the great majority of Americans, black and white.” Said Democrat activist Julian Bond at the time, “I don’t know why he’s doing it.”
Hauser finds a useful explanation in the manipulations of an attorney and hustler named Richard Hirschfield. He makes the case, which Hirschfield denies, that Hirschfield imitated Ali’s voice in making phone calls to support a wide range of policy initiatives, most of them minor. Hauser may be right, but that still does not explain Ali’s appearance at the Republican National Convention.
Hauser leaves the vague impression that Hirschfield must have manipulated Ali into his seeming Republicanism as well, but this is a subject that Hauser and the other mythologists leave alone. How, after all, could a man with Ali’s “crystal sense of the irrationality and the cruelty of the society” now be supporting causes “harmful to the great majority of Americans”?
The answer to this question is fairly obvious. Outside the ring, his only area of true authority, Ali had long been vulnerable to the most transparent of hucksters. “Ali has always been managed by someone else,” says Wilfred Sheed, an early and insightful biographer, “and perhaps he always will be.” If not more independent, the Ali who emerged in the summer of 1984 was at least more true to himself than the earlier incarnations.
At a Fourth of July celebration in Washington, for instance, Ali publicly scolded Louis Farrakhan for an ongoing series of threats and insults against Jews. “What he teaches is not at all what we believe in,” said Ali boldly. “We say he represents the time of our struggle in the dark and a time of confusion in us and we don’t want to be associated with that at all.”
“Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King’s Dream” is the latest work of hard-hitting author and WND contributor Jack Cashill, and is the first comprehensive, pull-no-punches account of America’s least likely icon.
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