Sports of The Times: Muhammad Ali: The Champion Who Never Sold Out

Muhammad Ali was an ungentrified black man.

That simple truth has resonated in my heart the past few days as volumes of praise and tributes have been lavished on Ali and his legacy.

I had not expected to be this sad. We all knew this day was coming, that he would die, but the finality of it has been a bit difficult to accept.

Now I understand what my father meant many years ago. He said that when Joe Louis died, he felt that he lost a little bit of himself. Louis had helped frame the ethos of my father’s generation of black men and women as Ali helped frame mine.

Louis’s warning to his opponents summed up the determination of my father’s generation: You can run, but you can’t hide.

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Ali told us to float like butterflies and sting like bees.

We all have the heroes and legends of our youth. I am forever grateful that the athlete I most respected and admired taught me the realities of life in the United States — that being an active, conscious black person in America meant traveling a road on which wealth and trinkets would test the will of men and women of principle.

Gentrification is on my mind…

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