Frazier loses his war of words with Ali

August 04, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Butch McAdams, the sports guy for WOLB talk radio, put it best Thursday morning.

"What's the difference between a new-born puppy and Joe Frazier?" McAdams asked early morning talk show host Bernie McCain.

"After six weeks, the puppy stops whining," McAdams answered, referring to Frazier's scurrilous attack on Muhammad Ali's being selected to light the Olympic torch in the opening ceremonies. In a story reported by Johnny Paul of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Frazier -- himself a former Olympic and professional heavyweight champion -- launched the following anti-Ali tirade:

"It was a slap in the face to boxing. [Ali] was a draft dodger. He didn't like his white brothers. He didn't like his black brothers. He didn't believe in the war. He didn't love America. There are so many men who deserve it so much more. This butterfly hasn't done that much for the sport. It would have been a good thing if he would have lit the torch and fallen in. If I had the chance, I would have pushed him in."

McAdams and McCain excoriated Frazier for the remarks. I can't say I was surprised, having read Frazier's autobiography "Smokin' Joe." The book is one long, tired, anti-Ali diatribe. Frazier simply rehashed in his latest attack what he said about Ali in his book. Much of it was wrong then, and it's wrong now.

Frazier obviously doesn't know the difference between a draft resister and a draft dodger. Draft dodgers seek to avoid the draft ITAL and END ITAL being punished for it. Draft resisters state their opposition to the draft, war or a particular war and then take their punishment like men. Ali stood ready to take his punishment. He didn't leave the country, continue to box and then make millions. He stayed, stood his ground and lost 3 1/2 years of his prime and millions of dollars for refusing to fight in a war he considered unjust. That's not draft dodging. That's the stuff of heroism.

"He didn't believe in the war," Frazier laments about Ali. Smokin' Joe's referring to the Vietnam War, of course, and apparently believes you were a true American only if you supported it. The fact is many loyal Americans considered the war unjust, an attempt by Americans to foist a corrupt, undemocratic and unpopular regime on the unwilling populace of Vietnam. We sent hundreds of thousands of American troops -- 58,000 of them lost their lives -- 8,000 miles away from home to burn down a bunch of damned peasant huts. Even Robert McNamara, who was secretary of defense during part of the war, now admits it was a mistake. Read his book, Joe. Read his book.

"He didn't like his white brothers. He didn't like his black brothers," whineth Frazier, no doubt referring to Ali's period in the Nation of Islam. Where, exactly, has Smokin' Joe been the past 21 years? Does he not know that Wallace Muhammad took over the Nation of Islam in 1975, purged it of its white devil teachings and turned it into an orthodox Islam group, eschewing racism and embracing brotherhood? Does he not know that Ali stayed with Wallace Muhammad's group, as opposed to joining Louis Farrakhan's renewed Nation of Islam in 1977? I could say that Frazier has spent the past 21 years recovering from too many punches to the head; that he spent too many years blocking punches with his face.

But the truth is I understand Frazier's bitterness. It lingers on long after the men finished their ring wars with that incomparable battle in Manila 21 years ago next month. Smokin' Joe was a great champion in his own right, doomed to be forever cast in the shadow of Ali, who was a living legend. He remembers Ali's unjust charges that any black person rooting for Frazier in their trilogy of bouts was an Uncle Tom, implying that Frazier also was.

"He did that, and left me to deal with it," Smokin' Joe wrote bitterly in his autobiography. "He left me to try to explain to [my son] Marvis what to do about classmates . . . who called his father a 'Tom.' . . . He left me to deal with death-threat phone calls to my home and, later, to the hotels I stayed in while training. 'Joe Frazier, you beat Muhammad, we gonna kill you, you Tomming dog.' "

It is that memory -- and Ali's truly boorish characterization of Frazier as a gorilla in their Manila fight -- that no doubt continues to eat away at Smokin' Joe. I can identify with Joe Frazier. Believe me I can, with blacks throwing around the term "Uncle Tom" so footloose, fancy free and without justification these days.

But Ali has admitted his wrong and asked for forgiveness. After the Manila fight -- when Frazier failed to answer the bell for the 15th round -- a prostrate and exhausted Ali lay in his dressing room and told Marvis Frazier to give his dad a message.

"Tell your father all the stuff I said about him -- I didn't mean it. Your father's a helluva man." Ali is a forgiving man who is ready to bury the hatchet.

With his gratuitous attack, Joe Frazier has shown he is a vindictive man who is also ready to bury the hatchet: in Muhammad Ali.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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