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Ali: ‘The Greatest,’ but not a ‘hero’ to everyone

Let’s be clear, Muhammad Ali was “The Greatest.” He brought speed, footwork and technical boxing tactics unlike any fighter ever. He brought great flair and flamboyance to the ring and was equally entertaining outside the ring.
He was controversial in his name change, religious beliefs for the times and his brash, outspoken behavior. He revolutionized his sport the way the Beatles revolutionized the world of music. And yet, much has been heroically made of his stand against the Vietnam war. He certainly exercised the right to protest the war and proclaim his status as a conscientous objector to the “unjust” Vietnam war. We do not take a stand on that conflict’s status here. He sacrificed his title and lost years in the ring for exercising his right. He paid a price for his stand. So be it.
Despite his political stand, which some may characterize as courageous, we fall short of declaring himself some kind of American hero. While others escaped to Canada or shot off a big toe, tens of thousands facing the military draft answered the bell and went to war to serve their country, if not fight for freedom. Would Ali have gone to war to fight the Japanese or Nazis in World War II? Doubtful.
In reliving the uniqueness of Ali’s life, the words and pictures acknowledged the iconic boxer’s history, but characterized his protest in the most glorified of imagery, thus casting a pall, we believe, on others who served. The backdrop to this story recalled the rich history of legendary sports figures who, indeed, did answer the bell, sacrified prime years in their athletic careers, risked their lives for freedom.
Thus, Sweet Spot salutes the many, many athletes who may have acknowledged the ugliness of war, but met their duty to their country. Where to begin? Christy Mathewson, whose life was shortened from exposure to the equivalent to Agent Orange during World War I? Ted Williams was an aviator in the Navy and Marines? Warren Spahn fought in the Battle of the Bulge and won a Purple Heart. Yogi Berra landed at Omaha Beach in the invasion of Normandy?  Bob Feller voluntarily entered the Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor. So we pause to salute to men and women athletes, and of course all of those who served honorably and continue to do so.
— Charles Kaufman

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