lose grace win with dignity
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge amid controversy.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
When I was growing up the athlete that I disliked the most was Muhammad Ali. Now I know that Ali is one of the greatest athletes of the millenium, and without question he is the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Even as a small boy I understood Ali's greatness. I knew that he was something very special. An athlete unlike any other I had ever witnessed. Still I loathed him with a passion. And my dislike for him had nothing to do with his religious beliefs or his refusal to be inducted into military. It was about him as an athlete.
He was just so brash and bold... so arrogant. He wouldn't just defeat his opponents he would taunt and belittle them. He took great pride in humiliating competitors who were not in his class. Often mocking their lack of talent and skill. He had no empathy or compassion for his opponents even after he had defeated them soundly. In effect he exhibited a total lack of respect for everyone and everything that was associated with his sport. He displayed absolutely no style or class. He certainly didn't understand or choose not to understand the concept of winning with dignity and humility. In my opinion he was the antithesis of what the true spirit of sport was all about. He went against everything that I was taught to honor and respect in sports. Naturally I detested him. I knew he was a great athlete but I had no desire to support him and in fact I couldn't wait until Ali got his butt beat but good.
Well that day finally came in 1971 against Joe Frazier. Before the fight Ali demeaned Fraizer calling him stupid and ugly. He said that Frazier was such a bad boxer that if he beat him he would get on his hands and knees and craw across the ring and kiss Fraziers feet. He even said he would leave the country for good if Fraizer beat him. Frazier wasn't impressed. When the bell to start round one rang Fraizer can out "smoking" raining blows to Ali's head and midsection. I knew right then that Ali would lose. Here was the first man to really stand up to the great Muhammad Ali. I loved it. In the third round Ali bellowed to Fraizer, "Joe you can't beat me. Don't you understand God is with me." Fraizer undaunted responded, " Well then God and you are going to get an ass whoopen tonight." True to his word Fraizer put a good whoopen on Ali. In the fifteenth round Fraizer floored Ali with a thunderous left hook. It was a blow that would have crumbled a brick wall. Amazingly, Ali regained his feet before the count of ten. He survived the rest of the round but it was clear that he was a defeated man.
After the fight Ali sat in his corner his face bruised and swollen from the terrible beating he took. In his eyes you could see that his heart was weighted down by the defeat. I loved every second of it. I just couldn't wait until the post fight press conference. I knew Ali would have to eat his words. And I knew the press was going to be really hard on him. After all he had humiliate so many other people in the past. Now it was going to be his turn to eat crow.
Well I was partially right. The press "hammer" him unmercifully but Ali handled the situation with such grace and dignity that he actually inspired me, and I am sure millions of other people who were watching the event. Although he had not boxed in three and a half years prior to the fight he never used that as an excuse. In fact he never made any excuses. He took sole responsibility for the loss and he gave Fraizer all the credit that was due him. He talked about how great Fraizer was as a fighter and a man. He was so gracious in defeat that you couldn't help but admire him. Ali may never have won with humility but he certainly knew how to lose with grace. Everyone talks about how great a winner Ali was, but in my opinion he was a great loser. He certainly taught me a lot about the experience of losing.
Lets face it life is tough. It's an endless series of ups and downs, yet it is through the process of facing and overcoming difficulties that life really has meaning. Certainly the way we deal with setbacks goes a long way in distinguishing how successful we will be in life. Failure arouses our determination and wisdom. Because of this, many people facing failure have been pretty surprised to find that the impending loss actually created courage, determination, and a new found wisdom. In basic terms, it's synonymous with that trite old cliché; "Every black cloud has a silver lining." Failure teaches us. Or as Ben Franklin said, "Those things that hurt, instruct." If we get burned, we learn not to play with matches. If we make a mistake, we learn not to do it again. Nobody can avoid failure all of the time. Even Muhammod Ali tasted failure.
Many times the difference between a good athlete and a world class athlete is whether or not he can learn from failure, whether he can use it or whether he will be eaten up by it. Martin Luther King Jr. has said, "The true measure of man is not how well he does during times of comfort and convenience, but during times of trials and tribulations." Look at a man who has handled defeat and setbacks well, and you will see a man with character. People who can rise from the ashes, who can handle defeat and adversity are the champions of life. Ali never let defeat, defeat him. That is why he is ALI-THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME!