It was a story of a Conway, South Carolina high school football team, where a coach decided to replace the previous year’s starting quarterback, a black kid, with a white kid who had played sparingly that season. Of course, the race thing reared its head, and 31 of 37 black players, 15 of whom were starters, began a boycott, and sat out the season. While the story was of mild interest to me, it refocused the still proud but somewhat battered image of Ali back to my mind, along with others.
I grew up in hockey crazy (and at that time lily-white) Minnesota, and memories of hearing that “blacks couldn’t play hockey, because their ankles were weak,” and other forms of racial stupidity and bigotry ran through my mind. Of course, we all heard the same things about quarterbacks, with yet other equally stupid assumptions.
Now we have elected a black man to the nation’s highest office, and by overwhelming numbers. As with other prejudices, it’s now almost difficult to look back and see what a barrier this had been. Perhaps not, however, for the magnificent Mohammed Ali, those 31 kids who missed a season of high school football, and countless others.
What is most heartening was the joyous enthusiasm of Americans of all ages, weights, sizes, ages, gender, colors, preferences, and backgrounds, over the fact that we as a nation have duly elected a man of true intellect, compassion, and apparent common sense, to lead us out of perhaps the most difficult times of my life.
All Americans should hold their heads high in recognition that we were the first of the western countries to elect the best man for the job, regardless of skin color. Our European friends, who have been understandably critical of the acerbic tone of America towards her longest and most loyal allies over the past eight years, have never accomplished anything quite like this. They are demonstrably proud of us for once again accepting our position as a real leader of the free world.
Is racism gone in America? I doubt it. Has Barack Obama greatly diminished its relevance? You bet.
I would have given anything to get a peek into the mind and heart of Mohammed Ali that morning, as he struggled to get his seat.
There had to be a joy that surpassed anything he ever experienced in that canvas-floored office he toiled in so magnificently.