Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Star-spangled quarrels. Recently, we are hearing a lot about the institutional quarrel, mainly on social media, between US president Trump and the Golden State Warriors, reigning NBA champions.
The team was supposed to visit the White House, a tradition for the title winners, but some of its stars (namely Steph Curry and Kevin Durant) voiced their concerns on the policies of the Trump administration and were doubtful on whether to attend the ceremony.
An angry President replied with a clear Tweet, withdrawing the invitation.
This incident made me think of the fact that, if in today’s America star athletes are involved in the public life, they mainly owe it to a Kentucky boy, with a big mouth and fast heavy fists.
A gold medal on the bottom of a river. You need to know that around the city of Louisville, enshrined deep in the waters of the Ohio river, lies a medal. A gold medal with the depiction of the Capitoline Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. It is the medal of the Olympic light heavyweight champion in Rome 1960.
It was that boy who won it, and he was born in Louisville in 1942.
Coming back from Rome, he tried to enter a restaurant in his hometown. “Hey, I’m Cassius Clay, Olympic champion, and even though it says there ‘white people only’, I want to have dinner here”. They threw him out, he was black, and you could not do that in 1960s America.
In the fight for Civil Rights, Kentucky has always been a “border state”, squashed between North and South.
During the Civil War, Kentucky remained officially neutral and was disputed between the Unionists, in favor of abolishing slavery, and the Confederate States of the South. Its citizens fought in both armies, with a penchant for the Confederate one, in favor of slavery.
Yet, this boy knew little of the delicate cultural and political balance of his State, and probably cared even less. He had fought and won for the USA, yet in his hometown he could not even have dinner wherever he wanted. He did not take it well and rage led him to throw the medal in the waters of the Ohio river.
Or at least so legend has it. A lot has been said and written about Cassius Clay, and his popularity has gone beyond simple facts, turning him into a fully-fledged legend, something only the greatest experience, about whom anything can be believed.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Five times world champion, 56 wins on 61 matches, he proved for the first time that in a ring even a 6’3” man weighing 236 lbs. could dance, offering a feeling of impressive lightness and harmony. His talent as a boxer often risked getting upstaged by his powerful personality outside the ring.
He was funny and foul-mouthed, brutally honest and a sycophant, a great charmer of journalists, both a maverick and a man loved by the masses and the more progressive American upper-class. With his words and his example, he offered himself as a symbol for the oppressed and all those fighting for a piece of the Great American Dream.