“Everyone who exalts himself, will be humbled; but the one who humbles himself, will be exalted.” Luke 18:14
Muhammed Ali’s death brought an outpouring of adulation. We respect the dead, but Ali was a man who, in my view, did much in the 1960s to debase the character of sport. Ali appeared to be the first great athlete who so flamboyantly violated all the received expectations for humility and gratitude.
Unquestionably Ali was a superb athlete - probably the greatest boxer of all time. As a kid, I enjoyed seeing his fights when I could. I rooted for him, because he was such a great athlete, despite his demeanor.
But I never cared for his arrogance and bombast. I recognized even then he was doing serious damage to the character of sport here and around the world. He roared, “I am the greatest,” even before he’d won much of anything. His public appearances were disgraceful. He was in the face of opponents, predicting how he would humiliate Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and anyone else entering the ring with him. Because he was so good he mostly delivered on his predictions.
Contrary to what coaches and parents taught, Ali established the principle it was good to boast, to gloat and to prance as long as you won.
He was the exact opposite of such excellent athletes as Jesse Owens, Roger Bannister, Johnny Unitas, Oscar Robertson, Roger Staubach, Jackie Robinson, or Lou Gehrig and the other true superstar athletes who were the face of American sport.
Thanks to Ali, it quickly changed.