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Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King's Dream Hardcover – January 31, 2006
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About the Author
Jack Cashill has written for The WSJ, Washington Post, Weekly Standard, and regularly in the American Thinker and WorldNetDaily. Recent books include Hoodwinked, Sucker Punch, and What’s The Matter With California. Jack has a Ph.D. from Purdue.
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I'm liberal. So, to read a book about a cultural icon that I enjoy by a self-described conservative and to thoroughly enjoy reading it (and recommending it, no less) is something of an accomplishment in my humble opinion of author, Jack Cashill.
This book is rich storytelling. This book is essentially two interwoven intentions. The first, is about the rise and the less complimentary moments in the life of Muhammad Ali. The second is an academic critique of America's tendency toward racializing politics. (And, Cashill in this book is guilt as hell of commiting some of the same truancies to decency as his liberal counterparts!)
Cashill does a wonderful job of describing both the boxing landscape that a young, Cassius Clay would inherit, but also the personal biographies of several fighters before and around Clay's time. Most notably, the late Floyd Patterson, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier.
Throughout this tome, Cashill quite frequently reveals that Clay/Ali was a product of both the environment and colorful personalities that avail themselves to this (as Cashill described) perpetually naiive, impressionable human being.
Aside from the more visable figures in Ali's life: Clay Sr., Elijah Muhammad and, later, Don King, Ali was also guilty of major indiscretions that served only his immediate goals. This we'd come to learn would have serious repercussions as Cashill gleefully points out to us, absent-minded star-struck followers.
What does one make of Ali turning his back on friend/ confidante (and perhaps his purest friendship) with Malcolm X and his family as the Nation of Islam/ Elijah Muhammad & co., exacted bloody revenge on "their" enemies? Or, about his alleged disavowal of Betty Shabazz and her children afterwards? How about Ali's vitriolic comments to/about Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, Joe Louis and Ernie Terrell in the Media and on college campuses? It was shocking to read that his comments went far beyond pre-fight hype, but to a place of slander and humiliation.
These are just a few of the questions raised by Cashill in this largely unflattering view of Ali. Cashill doesn't stop there. Perhaps, revealing great depths of personal despair, Cashill is also guilty of slander and humiliation as he all but places the blame for all the culturally-moral failings of the "liberal media elite" to the intentions of Ken Burns, Mike Marquesee and Ali confidante/ authorize biographer, Thomas Hauser. It is the likes of these, according to Cashill, who're the real culprits for our (Ali fans) inability to judge to whole person and victims of idol-worshipping.
To make matters worse for Cashill, Cashill has the unmitigated audacity to use unsupported personal experiences, throughout this book, to state that racism and the racially-motivated laws and crimes were historical exaggerations. Amazing.
I, for one, think that this close examination is of great importance because it presents an often overlooked side to a very public figure. And as such, provides an indispensable psychological tool in an effort to gleam ethical lessons from a truly fascinating life. On the whole, I would suggest that the goal of anyone reading this book would be to measure Ali's successes with his shortcomings, remembering where he came from and what he possessed, intellectually.
This book can provide to an informed mind an understanding into the complexities of this human soul in its fullest and most explicit expression.
In 1940 the most popular sports in America were horse racing, boxing, baseball, college football, and basketball, possibly in that order. With the advent of widespread television ownership around 1950, and the need to fill schedules with inexpensive programming, wrestling and roller derby won fans. Yet, the impression that wrestling was fixed and derby was for the gals placed them more in the entertainment than the sports category.
The Civil Rights movement and the Left would modify American sports, even boxing. Cashill discusses the Black heavy weight champion of the early decades of the 20th century, Jack Johnson, and his romps with white women and fast living, which caused great relief when Johnson lost his crown to the white Jess Willard in 1915. For over a decade white champs avoided fighting Blacks, in part, to prevent another Johnson scandal. But in the 1930s Joe Louis gained the throne AND the enthusiastic support of much of white America, especially in his bouts with German opponent Max Schmeling and the Italian Primo Carnera. Whether they wanted to or not, each fighter came to symbolize New Deal America, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy. Louis retained his popularity (if not his wealth) into the 1940s and 50s, and he served in the armed services during WWII. Much earlier in the era of WWI college football had been integrated enough for Paul Robeson to be declared an All American athlete; although very few whites and far fewer Blacks attended university in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1940s Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, and major league baseball would be integrated. Even in minor sports, Althea Gibson was shown in the Movietone newsreels as she won major women's tennis matches in the 1950s. American sports, like America itself, was becoming more integrated.
Cashill's neighborhood in Newark was also integrated. Even though his dad was a policeman, this did not prevent him from being robbed as an 11-year-old by two young Blacks. Because his father was a policeman, however, they were able to bend the rules, enter a school, and apprehend the guilty thieves.
Why is Cashill's book important? In a few pages Cashill describes what academics and the media seek to avoid. How often have we seen images in movies and on television of Jews anxious to leave Nazi occupied Europe. They became refugees fleeing as best they could, and if they were lucky, to America. In another area, many Americans can recall images on TV of masses of South Vietnamese seeking to crack into the American embassy in Saigon to be evacuated before the Vietnamese Communists gained total control. Some of those who could not make it to the helicopter evacuation, felt so threatened by the new government that they fled in the waters, becoming the "boat people." Some would be picked up by other ships; some would die in the water.
My point is that refugees are usually shown as sympathetic figures, Jews desperately scrambling out of Hitler's Europe, the boat people, those trying to get away from floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, storms, - all are sympathetically portrayed in the American media. Yet, from the 1950s until today, one feature of American life receives little honest commentary: white flight from central cities.
Not all media portray refugees sympathetically. In the late 1930s Der Stuermer ran a p. 1 article on Jews leaving Germany for Cape Town, South Africa. Even before Hitler won power in Germany, the law did not permit those leaving the country to take out more than a few hundred Reichsmarks. The law was retained, though the economy improved under the Nazis. Indeed, in the 1930s more Germans were leaving depression ridden America to return to the prosperous Third Reich, than going the other way. The Stuermer noted that even though Jews were restricted in the amount of cash they could take to Cape Town, they were taking huge crates of furniture, paintings, and other costly objects. The spin of Julius Streicher's Nazi paper was clear, the parasitic Jews, even in their departure from Germany, were taking the "goods" that Germany had provided them. They were taking the wealth of Germany with them.
America's academics have followed the Streicher approach - at least on one set of refugees. White flight to the suburbs is depicted as 1) affluent whites, following WWII, who bought cars and left the overcrowded cities for the greenery of the burbs, often subsidized by government loans, FHA housing, veterans' benefits, road construction and new infrastructure. The rich whites thus drove away from the squalid cities to the scenic serenity of the suburbs. Worse, the rich suburban whites refuse to pay their "fair share" of support for welfare and schools in the ever poorer cities. White racism is the motivating factor, according to the Left and the academedia complex. They view the move by whites as Striecher viewed the move by Jews.
In addition, 2) there were poorer, more vicious, openly racist whites left in the cities. When a few Blacks moved into their neighborhoods, these violent whites first sought to intimidate their courageous new neighbors. When that failed, these whites fled rather than live beside the Blacks. White racism was again the cause of this white flight. Whites take their wealth with them, abandoning the inner cities to impoverished Blacks. This is the view of white flight as seen by the academedia complex. White racists fled the cities, leaving the metropolises empty of supermarkets, devoid of department stores and pleasant shopping, lacking decent schools, or even doctors. A few alcohol shops, rehab agencies, and check cashing counters could not fill the empty factories. By contrast, the burbs blossomed with magnificent shopping malls, high-ranking schools, new hospitals, even modern factories. White racism has made the cities squalid.
Cashill's is one of the few books I know that challenges the liberal spin of this most important development in America during the past five decades - perhaps not as significant as the change in immigration policy, illegal immigration, and abortion, but it is certainly a major change in America's topography over these decades.
My point, as illustrated by Cashill's personal history, is that whites were often forced from their old neighborhood - with insults, threats, and violence. And like Jews in Nazi Germany, whites could no longer depend on authorities to defend their rights. Big cities were dominated by liberal Democrats or "reform liberal Republicans" like New York City's John Lindsay. Such Republicans were even more hostile to poor whites than the Democrats. By the late 1960s liberals would go to any extent to excuse Black criminal behavior, and find some rationale to blame it on the whites - especially working class whites. Cashill notes the hatred of poor whites in another area - culture. Although its ratings were good, the network cancelled the Friday night boxing contests, because it had the wrong kind of audience - the poor and lower-classes.
Cashill is a conservative, the son of a white Newark policeman. Bettina Aptheker was a red-diaper baby, daughter of two prominent member of the Communist Party, USA. Yet, there came a point where Black crime in Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant threatened the lives of Bettina's parents, and the Apthekers became Jewish refugees fleeing liberal Democratic Brooklyn (the Congressional district of Shirley Chisholm) to travel to California - as the Oakies and Arkies had done 40 years prior. But while Steinbeck presented the Joad family refugees with enormous sympathy, the whites who flee big-city Blacks and the liberal political machines are shown as racists removing their wealth from the city to the rich burbs. They are seen as Streicher saw the owners of huge crates loaded for Cape Town.
Unfortunately, lacking in this book is a simple chronology of heavy weight boxing champions and the major bouts described in this book. The chronology should also contain all of Clay/Ali's major fights.
Cashill is good at not being politically correct and discussing the pro-Axis views of leaders of the Nation of Islam prior to and during WWII. Yet, he might have connected those views to the earlier major Black nationalist movement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, created by Marcus Garvey, - a movement extremely popular among Blacks in the 1920s. Garvey not only made deals with the newly revived Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, he proclaimed of his UNIA, "We were the first fascists." The NoI continued in the ideological tradition pioneered by Garvey's UNIA.
The weakness of Cashill's interpretation of events is that he attributes much of the growing anti-white racism to Ali. Ali may have contributed to this, but his joining the Muslims was as much an effect as a cause. For example, look at the NoI's Muhammad Speaks 1960-61. There is a back-page story of Malcolm X addressing a student assembly at Howard University. There is a photo of the audience. In the picture one sees exuberant students literally jumping for joy at Malcolm's message, and one student - not identified - is clearly the young Stokely Carmichael. In 1966 during a march for civil rights in Mississippi, Carmichael would originate the slogan "Black Power," which would quickly undermine and overwhelm the civil rights the Civil Rights movement. I was one of the first members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter in New Orleans in 1960. By 1962 the NO CORE chapter had expelled all of its white members - it thus expelled some half its membership!. Black nationalists then seized power of CORE chapters in other cities - Brooklyn and Detroit. The same rejection of integration and civil rights was occurring in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. By 1966 CORE and SNCC were no longer integrated or civil rights organizations. All whites had been purged from these organizations. Black nationalists swept away integration; Black racism prevented discussion (only lecturing at best, insults and treats surfacing more frequently). Crime, rioting, and violence shoved aside non-violence and trampled civil rights. "Snick" provides and interesting transformation - from the "popular front" Southern Negro Youth Congress of the 1940s and 50s, to the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, to the Students National Coordinating Committee of the Black Nationalists of the late 1960s.
Much of this was occurring before Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali. Ali is NOT the cause. His conversion to Islam was symbolic of the change already occurring in Black America.
Was Ali cheered by the white Left? You bet. Ali refused to fight in what the Left deemed an unjust war. Cashill's view is simple: boxers like Joe Louis fought for American values; Ali fought for the racism of the Nation of Islam. But Ali also refused to fight in what many Americans, including myself, concluded was an unjust war. In that sense, Ali boxed not only for Black racism, but for international morality.
Could Ali have saved Newark? If he had rejected Black racism and pushed for integration and treating all people equally, could he have changed events in America's big cities? If he had been drafted, if he had carried the American flag, could Cassius Clay have saved Newark? Even as Muhammad Ali, he could not even save boxing! The tectonic plates of American sport were also spinning around: now professional football, basketball, then college football, baseball, hockey, soccer, then perhaps boxing, and further down, horse racing.
The 1960s in America were a time of a cultural revolution. In addition to the growth of the hippie movement, the flower children, the peace people, the women's movement grew in power. To all of these new elements, boxing was just too violent. Yes, they all wanted to cheer, and they would love to cheer on Blacks, but boxing was not the venue in which to do it. Indeed, boxing with its Black champs only reinforced the wrong stereotypes, that Blacks were violent animals. Basketball, by contrast, was graceful, with tall men floating to the hoops. Many of the newer players were Black, and they were good at the game. They were worthy of cheers, not because they were affirmative action quota hires, but because they were good, often the best. More Blacks engaged in college football and universities integrated and expanded, and professional football soon had Blacks as the major group of players. The Left could then cheer Blacks in basketball and football; they could ignore the animalistic sport of boxing.
Black racism is a powerful ingredient in American society, one that cannot be studied in academia, because academics allege that, by definition, it cannot exist. It is hard to get funding to study what the Left and the academedia complex declare to be non-existent. And if you question that definition, you may be expelled from the scholarly community. However, the required blindness on the issue of Black racism will eventually render most sociological studies on racism to be worthless. Muhammad Ali was not the cause, but merely an example of Black racism. In addition, I would contend, he provided a moral example by refusing to participate in an unjust war.
I know too little about boxing to criticize much of Cahill's well written book on that particular topic. I can say his book is a good read. His criticism of the Nation of Islam is valid. His assessment of the Vietnam war is one-sided. His reminiscences of Newark, a challenge to the silence and distortions of the academy. Overall, Cashill has written an excellent book.
For my full review of this book, check my blog.