We will never see the likes of Ali again
Published 11/06/2016 | 00:00
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greatest of them all? It's a question that is depressingly trudged out all-too frequently in modern day discussions on popular culture.
The greatest album, the greatest film, the greatest actor, etc.
Throw sport into the equation and you open up a hornet's nest of 'greatest' debates. Is Messi the greatest ever footballer? Or was it Pele? Was Jack Nicklaus the greatest golfer ever, or do we give that title to Tiger? Was Shefflin better than Ring? The list is endles.
The sad passing of Muhammad Ali at the age of 74 last weekend brought into focus what it means to be truly great, and highlighted how the three-time heavyweight champion of the world touched the hearts and minds of millions around the world in a manner today's sports stars could only dream of.
Ali was a supreme athlete who transformed boxing at a time when its star was beginning to wane. He turned pro after winning gold at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and won his first world title when he sensationally defeated Sonny Liston in 1964. Ali was just 22 at the time.
He became a global superstar, known in every town and village across the world. But it was Ali's conduct outside of the ring that really set him apart. He was drafted into the US Army in 1967, but refused to go. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but avoided jail on appeal. He was also stripped of his boxing licence and would not fight again until 1970 when the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
His decision not to go to Vietnam divided America, with many branding it a cowardly act. But Ali stood firm, he believed it was the right thing to do and he was not for turning.
Now imagine for a moment what it would be like for a modern-day sporting icon to hold a similar position. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo refusing to participate in the World Cup in protest over the alleged corruption at FIFA. Imagine Tiger Woods refusing to represent the USA in the Ryder Cup because of his country's occupation of Iraq? Or closer to home - could you imagine someone of the calibre of Dublin All-Star Bernard Brogan speaking out at the gun violence that is crippling his city?
The answer, sadly, is no. Today's sport stars live in a parallel universe, and more often than not they dance to the sponsors' tune. Every statement and interview is pre-planned and carefully crafted to tick all the right boxes - God forbid they might offend someone.
Muhammad Ali defined an era, but sadly it is an era alien to the world we live in today. He lit up the world with his intoxicating cocktail of dazzling skill and quick-fire turn of phrase.
When Ali became world champion at the age of 22, he called himself the greatest. And who are we to argue?