Ali is NOT the Greatest

When you’re 17, you don’t pay much attention to anything beyond school, money, and the fairer sex. And when the Olympics cruised through Atlanta the summer of my 17th year, nothing else was on the mind, especially during the Opening Ceremonies.

So when Muhammad Ali was tasked with lighting the Olympic Torch, I thought nothing of it. Because that’s not what 17 years old are worried about.

Fast forward four Olympiads and this time I am watching. And somewhere between David Beckham and the actual lighting of the torch, Ali makes another appearance. This time at the behest of the Brits – for his humanitarian work.

And as I saw Ali the question began to brew – at what point did Ali become the face of America? And what exactly did he do to earn that status? And how did I miss the vote?

And am I okay with that?

And what happens to the past?

Some look at Ali and see a hero, a man who fought the regime and stood up for himself and his race. A man who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. A man who built himself to the highest of highs and captured the hearts of Americans everywhere, black and white.

And some look at Ali and see the humanitarian work he has performed since finishing his boxing career. And others see a tragic figure, slowed now by his mind and Parkinson’s.

And I see those things, for they can’t be missed or ignored. But neither can the remainder of Ali’s past.

You can’t ignore the association with Elijah Muhammad and his radical sect of Islam called the Nation of Islam. If today’s most prominent athlete were to align himself with a radical form of Islam, it would not be lauded, it would be loathed. He would not be celebrated, he would be criticized. And while Ali was criticized for his faith in the 1960’s, it falls far short of the anger he’d face today.

Ali, to his credit, stood up for the black community, especially those in the south. But in actuality, integration was not was he was after. The Nation of Islam taught segregationism, that the races are different, and should not be mixed, just under a different order.

You can’t ignore the defiance of dodging the draft, regardless of your feelings for the war. When your country asks you to go, you go. You may not like it. You may not want to go, but you were asked. And when you’re asked, you respond yes – not no.

And in addition to dodging the draft, his public stance swayed the public opinion of the war, to the tune of those serving being treated with hatred and contempt. It was no longer a civil discourse, but a physical one.

You can’t ignore the infidelity. Ali is currently married to his fourth wife and has nine children: seven to his four wives and two from extra-marital relationships. His third, and potentially fourth wife, were the result of affairs, as were two of his children. And while this has no bearing on his ability to do a job, it doesn’t speak to the image America should be promoting.

You can’t ignore his treatment of his opponents. To be honest, trash talking is a major component of today’s sporting events. You see it at every level and there is little that can, or will, be done to curb it. But during Ali’s time, very little talking was done between teams or opponents.

But Ali’s talking would not be considered trash, but abuse. He vilified his opponents and made statements they were never able to overcome. He characterized Ernie Terrell and Jim Frazier as Uncle Tom’s, monikers they could never chase. In addition to the Uncle Tom comments, he also berated Frazier with racial and physical insults, including rounds of “Ugly” jokes and calling him a gorilla and white man’s champion. He did the same to George Foreman when he implemented the “Rope-a-Dope” as part of the Rumble in the Jungle.

See 2:25 mark:

And most people consider his brash behavior and personality to be what makes him so great, and he did back it up, but the way he carried himself should not be the example we set for ourselves or the world. And just because Parkinson’s has reduced him to a caricature of himself does not make him a hero or deity – and he needs to quit being treated as such.

He should be remembered for his boxing prowess in the ring and controversy out of it. For together they paint the full picture of “The Greatest” boxer of all time. But to forget the controversy and paint him as the symbol of American sports and culture is to gloss over and stuff aside a large part of his past – and the people he hurt along the way.

I, along with many others, am willing to forgive Ali the sins of his past, but I’m not willing to forget them.

And I’m not willing to have him serve as my ambassador to the rest of the world. To me, he is only the greatest boxer, not the greatest American.

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Chick-fil-A May End the World

I have this feeling the world may come to an end next week, more specifically next Wednesday. I don’t have a secret Mayan calendar nor is there a crazy radio host whispering in my ear. But I believe the world will come to an end next Wednesday, August 1st.

Or at least it feels that way reading the news, perusing social media, and hanging out at the water cooler. Why? Because Mike Huckabee dubbed next Wednesday “National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”.

And having a day focused on celebrating Chick-fil-A is a direct affront to those boycotting Chick-fil-A. And since this debate over Chick-fil-A has two distinct sides, it means we have a divided house. And as Jesus once famously quoted Abraham Lincoln: “Any house divided against itself cannot stand”, which means this house will be destroyed.

And as I sit back and prepare for the wreckage, I am torn. Not about which side to take, but about what this debate says about us – on both sides.

For instance, what does this debate say about the vocal, and sometimes vulgar, opponents of Chick-fil-A? Those are willing to stand up to protect the rights of others, even if they’re not directly impacted. Those who now refuse to partake of Mr. Truett’s establishments? But it’s also the same group who admittedly never eats there anyway, claims the chicken is “shitty”, and resorts to name calling to make their point.

Is this a war worth waging? Is this the hand you want to go all in with? Using slavery, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement as your argument is not helping your cause. It’s making it worse. Not ONE gay person is owned by another person. Every gay person has the right to vote. And every gay person has the right to eat where they want to eat, stay where they want to stay, and buy what they want to buy. Even Chick-fil-A gladly gives you this right.

Regardless of my feelings on gay marriage, everyone has the right to pursue their cause. It just seems this battle, against this opponent, is not worth fighting. It’s like having pocket deuces while your opponent has pocket rockets.

On the other hand, what does this say about those with the newfound expendable income, who have turned a normal Wednesday into must-do experience? What does it say about a group that has been silent for so long to suddenly push back, both with their voices and their wallets? What does it say about me?

I admire our willingness to finally be heard, but we need to ask ourselves the same question we asked our opponents: Is this a war worth raging? Is this the hand we want to go all in with? Is fast food really the best use of our funds, knowing only a percent of a percent actually goes to the charities in question? Wouldn’t we be better off donating the price of #1 combo to a charity that actively tries to prevent gay marriage or council those struggling with homosexuality? And is standing in line for dinner really taking action?

So next Wednesday, the two sides will collide. Collateral damage will be strewn about. But for what gain? If those opposing Chick-fil-A win, will same sex marriage suddenly become law? And if those supporting Chick-fil-A win, will homosexuality suddenly disappear?

While I admire the efforts of both groups, this whole debate feels hollow. It feels like we are putting all our eggs in one basket, a basket that will inevitably break every egg from both sides.

Why don’t we take this energy and focus it towards something more useful, lasting, and important – like abortion.

I can somewhat understand the other side not wanting to fight this battle as it’s already been won. But I don’t understand why my side seems to remain quiet.

Why don’t we rise up and fight abortion with the same fervor we’re fighting gay marriage? Why don’t we support the unborn the way we support Chick-fil-A? Why don’t we get united behind this cause like we are for National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day?

Does our cause need to be better organized? Does it need a prominent champion the way Mike Huckabee has become for Chick-fil-A? Does it need to involve something we’re already attached to, like waffle fries?

Or is the Chick-fil-A cause just convenient?

I wish I knew – and I wish I were doing more myself…

Checking in on 40 Before 40

It’s been nearly two months since I’ve mentioned 40 Before 40 and nearly 5 months since I finished the list. And while it may appear not much is happening in the dreams department, nothing could be further from the truth.

I currently own a Ford Explorer, which is still in production, although my version is a few body styles removed from the current vehicle. Does this count? Not really what I was expecting when the dream came about, so it currently stands as no.

And with that said, I still can’t lay claim to completing any of my 40B40 list (like my shortened version?), but I can feel myself getting close. The Tiger Swag is slowly making progress. At its current level, I don’t think it counts as being published, but it may lead to other opportunities. Opportunities like going viral (Tiger Swag was called out on a Gamecock message board), being on radio or tv or podcast (I would consider that a win), or even taking a road trip (press passes, right?).

In better news, I expect to accomplish a few goals this fall. October will be our annual Clemson road trip, which will take us to Winston-Salem, home of Krispy Kreme (emails have already been exchanged). Fall break may contain a trip to DC with the fam, which will certainly include a stop by Busch Gardens. And November will be renamed “No Shave November”, which will be followed by a Floyd the Barber shave.

Other work includes multiple offers for road trips – just need to find the time (and money), minor opportunities to cater an event, negotiations of a hot air balloon ride, research into using my engineering skills to solve problems, and inquiries into hosting a concert.

But more importantly, my list must change. Since I joined Facebook in support of The Tiger Swag, I have actually forever denied myself to accomplish one of my goals. So, rather than rename the list 39 Before 40, I’ve decided to replace Facebook with a new dream.

My new dream – invent something.

I don’t need to be a Di Vinci or Edison or Franklin. I don’t even need to be an Otis (elevator), de Mestral (Velcro), or Judson (zipper). I’d be honored to be like another Powell I know.

Terry Powell – aka Dad. He took used clothes hangers from department stores, sawed off the connector pieces to create his own version of chip clips. I’ve also seen solve many a problem without using the proper tools. Just gettin’ it done any way he can.

Honestly, I’d even settle for an idea. An idea like online police scanners (been done), putting all known leaves in an app so you can recognize vegetation (been done), or packaging crayons based on schools and conferences. Would you want your kids coloring with a Crimson crayon for Harvard or Blue for Yale? I know I would. Heck! I’d have seconds and then polish it off (see the 2:15 mark)…

Unfortunately, Home Depot upped the ante by selling official paint colors of the NCAA.

So, it shall still be called 40 Before 40: 40 goals before turning 40.

And I only have 40 more to go…

It Could Be Worse

At some point each of us must face some pretty harsh truths: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy – and most adults don’t get summer vacation.

But just because we don’t get the summer off from work doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun. A few years ago, Tanger was in the process of being redeveloped. And with the redevelopment came three new restaurants.

Unfortunately, one of the restaurants (to remain nameless) was forced to have the majority of the construction occur in the heat of the summer.

On one Al Gore type summer day, the foreman, who I’d gotten to know quite well, called to ask a few questions. It was just after lunch and the heat was clearly taking a toll. He was short of breath and I could hear him wiping his brow.

When I answered, he started with “Holy S%#^, it’s hot out here!” Followed by further gasps for air and the sounds of him chugging water.

My response: “Really? It’s a lovely 74 degrees here, with a slight breeze. Matter of fact, I was a little chilly earlier and had to put on a sweater.”

His response: “Willy – F%#^ YOU!”

Once I stopped laughing, I helped him out and we both went our merry ways.

The moral of the story is this – just because you don’t get a vacation, doesn’t mean you should pity yourself. It could be worse: you could be laboring in the summer sun only to have some smartass in an air conditioned office giving you some lip.

The Hottest I’ve Ever Been – Part III

Occasionally, a group of us guys get together, sans wife and kids, to have a chance to hang out, unwind, and do manly things. These “Guys Nights”, or “Sausage Fests”, include such manly things as drinking beer and playing pool, or playing high stakes putt-putt where the loser buys dinner, or eating wings and catching a non-chick flick.

One time, and one time only, we headed south to Savannah to do one of the manliest things a bunch of married guys can do – go dirt track racing.

The night was started by stuffing our faces with fried chicken and pre-hydrating on Coke. We arrived at Oglethorpe Speedway around 7:00, giving us an hour or so to pick out which cars we were going to claim – and to bake in the evening sun.

After about 45 minutes of pre-race strategy, the massive combination of greasy food and Coke decided it didn’t appreciate the sun and heat. Having spent some time at race tracks growing up, I realized this was a problem I did not want to “address” here. If I could just outlast the sun, I would be good.

Unfortunately, the sun still had a good 30 minutes left before it parted ways with us for the night. I wasn’t going to make it 30 minutes.

Now I was sweating for two reasons, the latter almost like cold chills.

This wasn’t getting any better – and we hadn’t even started racing yet. And we are an hour from home. And I’m not the first stop.

It was time to man up, and as they say in Men at Work, “Do the nasty”:

At this point, I refer you to Shakespeare:

“The better part of valor is discretion” from Henry the Fourth

Continue reading at your own peril… Continue reading

The Hottest I’ve Ever Been – Part II

August 30, 2003, Clemson, South Carolina

Clemson was opening the 2003 football season by hosting Georgia for a noon game. The previous year, Clemson took UGA down to the wire in Athens, and expectations were high.

The first football game is always the most exciting. We were pumped as we headed from Waterloo to the Promised Land. Everything was going just as planned until we hit Anderson. At that point, 20,000 Clemson fans met 20,000 UGA fans.

Traffic stopped. Temperatures were high. Tempers were higher.

We finally made our parking space 15 minutes before kickoff. We literally ran from the car to the stadium. We were then stuck in the concourse waiting to get to our seat. It’s hot. It’s sticky. It’s smelly.

We finally make our seats just as the Tigers are coming down the hill. They were pumped. We were pumped. The crowd was pumped.

All 80,000+ fans were jumping up and down. It was downright sweltering in there.

But we didn’t care. Football was back and we were playing the silver britches.

Then the second most beautiful play-action pass I’ve ever seen occurred (see Chris Weinke vs Clemson). David Green faked, Justin Miller bit, Fred Gibson scored.

UGA 7 – Clemson 0

Unfortunately, the temperatures continued to climb. So did Georgia’s side of the scoreboard.

The afternoon sun never relented. Neither did Georgia’s defense.

Final score: UGA 30 – Clemson 0

At the end of the day, we were sweat soaked and sun burnt. And humiliated.

That day will not set any temperature records as there were many days as hot or even hotter, but to me, that was the most miserable football game I’ve ever been to. Add in the traffic before the game, the shut out, and the fact that’s it at home to your rival, and it all points to the hottest I’ve ever been.

The Hottest I’ve Ever Been – Part I

Right now, it’s hot. Damn hot. But this ain’t the worst it’s ever been. No the summer of ’94 takes the cake.

That summer I was the head of the one-man weed eating department at Stoney Pointe Golf Course (now called the Links at Stoney Pointe) in Greenwood, South Carolina. Unfortunately, as head weed eater, you can’t dress to the weather. You have to dress to the job.

Dressing to the job means long pants, usually old jeans or Dickies, and long sleeves. Long pants and long sleeves aren’t conducive to summers in the South. But at the same time, money made as weed eater in long pants and long sleeves is better than no money at all.

“Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.”
Danny DeVito from Heist

One particular hot day I was weed eating a small ravine that separates the fairway from the green on Hole #2, a short Par 5. I survived the morning, but as the afternoon heat wore on, I started slowing down. Around mid-afternoon, I finally gave in.

I headed to the clubhouse to get an ice cold drink (they were free to staff). The first sweet tea went down quick and smooth. The second a tad slower, but much more enjoyable. The third – much slower as I savored the wet and cold.

Cooled off and re-hydrated, I headed back out to the course to finish my job. The first step outside was like a punch in the gut and left me short of breath. I had already forgotten how stinkin’ hot it was.

But I was 15 and invincible, so I pressed on. Found my spot on the fairway side of the ravine and recranked the weed eater.

Hole #2 – Links at Stoney Point

At about the half hour mark into my weed eating activities, the sweet tea was no longer being sweet. It started to sour. And as it soured, so did I.

I fought the sweet tea and heat as long as I could. But eventually, they won. And by won, I mean they wanted out – and out they came.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. And nearly 20 years later I can say I’ve never chugged sweet tea or any similar drink on a day like today. And I can say the heat’s never won again.

P.S. – Hole #2 is special to me as it’s also the place where I took my last ever chaw.

Most courses have shortcuts to allow you to get around the course without riding the cart paths. In this case, getting to the green at hole #2 meant riding the main subdivision streets and cutting across an open field (read undeveloped lot). As I was crossing this field, I hit a major bump, which caused me to swallow everything in my mouth, including the pinch of Levi Garrett & juices.

Never again have I put smokeless tobacco in my mouth…