As we say goodbye to the greatest for good we should also say goodbye for good to the term GOAT (save for conversations about Ali). Muhammad Ali embodied the term and it’s less than respectful to his legacy to bestow such a hollowed moniker on any other athlete or entertainer–especially those who have done little outside of their master craft to measure up to what the champ did outside of his day job. So in honor of the GOAT’s passing here are five (of many) reasons why no one should ever be refereed to as the greatest of all time ever again…
1. He created the term
On February 25, 1964 after the artist formally known as Cassius Clay stopped the heavily favored Sonny Liston in seven rounds he took to ring center and proclaimed that he was the greatest and that he shook up the world. Little did anyone know that this young brash 22 year old was not just smack talking and would go on to embody both the term “I Am the greatest” and the act of shaking up a world in need of shaking. Ali through the years had trials and tribulations that put to test his greatness and at every turn he would remind friend and foe alike that he was indeed the greatest of all time. You will be hard pressed to find an utterance of that verbatim prior to Ali saying so. Therefore he’s the standard bearer of what the GOAT should look, sound and act like.
2. His convictions were not compromised by public opinion, monetary gain or even peer pressure from his contemporaries
Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the Army during the Vietnam war and the revocation of his title for it is well chronicled. One of the more poignant photos from that period of his life is the one where he is surrounded by some of his contemporary greats including Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Lew Alcinder. The misconception is that they were there to support Ali and his defiant stance against the war. The truth is they were actually there to do the opposite. The private meeting was to convince him to enlist and to assure him that he would not be going to war but instead would serve as an ambassador to it and a morale booster to the troops in much the same way that Joe Louis was used during World War II. Ali who was far less educated than all of the men in attendance (in a formal sense) had a rebuttal for each and every point they brought up. He went on an almost two hour filibuster going into great detail why he would not be supporting the Vietnam war or enlisting. He won over the well meaning yet naive greats and forced them to reexamine their tacit support of the war. So much so that Lew Alcindor followed the path of Cassius Clay and retired his slave name a couple years later.
3. Ali Spoke truth to power instead of seceding to the powers that be.
There has never been an athlete before or since Muhammad Ali that has had the courage to speak truth to power. He did not shrink, bow or take a back seat to white supremacy. He confronted the white supremacist construct with as much confidence and zeal as he confronted his opponents in the ring. His defiant stance in media gave a nation (within a larger more hostile nation) of millions courage and pride. It inspired protest and affirmed the fact that we as a people are great. He was not worried about endorsement dollars. In fact he knew that it would be more lucrative for him to go along to get along just as pretty much every athlete today does but he remained steadfast and fearless.
4. He was not trans-racial and did not transcend race. He was unapologetically Black.
Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Jesse Owens were phenomenal athletes that paved the way for Muhammad and others to thrive in the sports arena. By extension they paved the way for black people to more equitably integrate in to all levels of sports, entertainment, business and academia because they humanized blacks in the minds of millions of white Americans that saw (and treated us) as less than. Jackie, Joe, and Jesse were not a black mans black man though. At least not publicly. They were the white mans black men and while I completely understand the precarious line that they had to walk they lacked the intestinal fortitude of Muhammad Ali who made the conscious decision to be the black mans black man. Before him on the national sports scene there was none and sadly no such an athlete has come after him. Muhammad Ali’s embrace of his blackness was so real and so authentic that white people loved and respected him for it (the ones that did not hate him for it).
Michael Jordan is widely considered the GOAT in basketballcentric conversations. However he was as bad off the court about being a strong black man that took strong black stances as he was good at dominating the league over the span of his playing career. Michael Jordan was arguably a greater basketball player on the court than Ali was a boxer in the ring but his sheer cowardice as it pertained being a black mans black man exempts him from legitimately holding the GOAT title. Micheal Jordan was famously asked in 1990 to endorse a black man running for the US Senate by the name of Harvey Gantt. Gantt at the time was trying to unseat one of the most rabidly racist and regressive US Senators since reconstruction by the name of Jesse Helms (NC). Michael Jordan’s response to the endorsement request was “Republicans buy sneakers too”. MJ was the closest athlete to reaching the world wide recognition as Ali. Black America could have really used from MJ in the 80’s and 90’s the kind of unapologetic blackness that Ali gave to black America during his prime. He chose to do the opposite therefore he’s much closer to being a goat than the GOAT.
5. He is the father of rap music and by extension the hip-hop culture
DJ Kool Herc is the father of hip-hop. Muhammad Ali however is the father of rap. The only thing missing from the punch lines, similes and analogies inherent in his prophetic and poetic proclamations were bars and hooks. The precocious and braggadocios rhymes that Ali spit was primordial hip-hop. In fact it was hip-hop (LL Cool Jay) that actually coined the acronym GOAT. And while LL is not the GOAT he is Ali. Jay Z is Ali, Ice Cube is Ali. Scar Face is Ali.Biggie was Ali, Tupac was Ali. Fuck being like Mike, Be like Ali. The one and ONLY GOAT.