Category Archives: Indiana University Men’s Basketball

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.” — Grace Paley

COURAGE

One of the most overused terms in sports is courage. A guy hits a single in the bottom of the ninth to win a baseball game for his team and the announcers gasp and coo that’s he’s exhibited an uncommon amount of courage.

Or the plucky college basketball team beats the number one team in the nation which, as we all know, happened a little more than a month ago right here in Bloomington. Sure enough, the announcers and the next day’s sports columnists all agreed: that plucky team was very courageous.

I call bullshit.

Courage?

There was only one truly courageous professional athlete I’ve ever seen. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, 70 years ago today.

We know him as Muhammad Ali.

I’ve never given a damn about professional boxing. It’s a cruel sport. It’s nothing more than sanctioned assault and battery performed for the pleasure of the slobs who pay to watch.

Men batter each others’ brains into mush so promoters and TV execs can make millions.

You can have it.

But I was always a fan of Muhammad Ali. He was the first jock to understand that what he was doing, first and foremost, was entertaining.

“Float like a butterfly,” he said, “sting like a bee.”

Poetry.

“I am the greatest,” he proclaimed. “I said that even before I knew I was.”

Comedy.

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me,” he said.

Brilliant.

Muhammad Ali was strong. Muhammad Ali spent months training for a fight. Muhammad Ali endured blows that would disable or kill you and me. Muhammad Ali beat up dozens of men in the ring.

But nothing he did was courageous until he started looking at the question of black and white in America.

“Boxing,” he said, “is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”

No social commentator has ever uttered or typed a line with such clarity and perspicacity on the topic of race in America.

When he first became boxing’s champion, he had reached the pinnacle of all that a black man could achieve in this holy land. He knew it wasn’t enough.

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell,” he said, “but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”

Still going by the name Clay, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. were the most famous black men in the world. He was wealthy. What man would jeopardize that?

He did. Racism in America so disgusted him that he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. He changed his name to Ali.

Ali With Malcolm X

All those white men watching him beat up another black men weren’t going to like that one bit. Muhammad Ali instantly became the man they loved to hate.

What professional athlete today would put at risk even one commercial shoot to breathe a word about freedom or race or poverty?

Muhammad Ali had work to do — work much more important than mashing the brains of another black man for the amusement of white men.

America’s Vietnam War was disposing of thousands of human beings a week. It was fought, disproportionately, by America’s blacks.

In 1966, when Ali was classified 1-A by the Selective Service System, he opted for courage.

He was ordered to report to the Army’s induction center in Houston in April, 1967. When the induction officer called his name, Ali refused to respond.

He could have run to Canada, as many young men were doing back then. He could have joined the National Guard, as many pro athletes were doing at the time as well. Joining the National Guard was a way of avoiding service in the regular Army and, consequently, being sent to Southeast Asia.

He’d chosen neither of those ways out.

Three times the induction officer called his name. Three times he stood tall and silent. Finally the officer warned him that refusing to respond was a felony punishable by five years in prison.

Ali remained mum.

He would say later, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. They never called me nigger.”

Which, by the way, was now the preferred appellation for him among so many of those white men who formerly enjoyed watching him beat up another black man.

Ali was immediately arrested and charged. He was found guilty by a jury two months later. He’d been stripped of his championship title by boxing’s regulating authorities the day he was arrested.

Ali Photographed By Gordon Parks During His Exile From Boxing

He gave up his career and his freedom and put his fortune at risk, all for something he believed in.

Something he believed in.

Which sports celebrity today believes in anything?

Which American today would risk a nickel on something he or she believes in?

It all turned out well for Muhammad Ali, of course. His conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court. He was allowed to compete for the heavywieght title again and he won it back.

In his doddering years, he has become this nation’s kindly, lovable grandpa. When he dies, politicians and wags will fall all over each other trying to be the first to say what a great man he was.

But on April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali had no idea that would happen.

He only knew his public opposition to the Vietnam War was worth risking everything he had.

That was courage.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby

STOCK UP ON BOTTLED WATER, MILK, AND BREAD!

As a native Chicagoan, I love the fact that a number of school systems around the area are operating on a two-hour delay due to yesterday’s snowfall. The WFIU newscaster this morning breathlessly advised listeners to stay tuned for any further announcements of delays or even school closings.

Anywhere from half to three quarters of an inch of snow buried locales around Bloomington on Thursday. The National Weather Service warns that snow may drift through this morning and into the early afternoon.

Half an inch of snow drifting! Hehe! How big will those mighty snow drifts be? Will I be buried up to my ankles?

Hell, when I walked Steve the Dog this AM, I could still see the grass poking through the white blanket.

These photos illustrate why I laugh. The first is from the infamous Blizzard of 1967; the second from last year’s equally infamous snowfall. Each dumped two feet of powder on Chicago.

Honestly, folks, I prefer what we in Bloomington have to what I once had to endure in Chicago. Still, I have to chuckle.

HOOSIER HYSTERIA

Tough Guy Pat moped into Soma Coffee this morning. He’d spent last night at Assembly Hall watching the men’s basketball team tank a home game against the godawful Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Just like that, Bloomington has tumbled from giddy to glum.

Whupped

I had to ask him, Is this the beginning of the end?

“No, not at all,” Tough Guy Pat said. “It’s just the beginning of reality.” He went on to explain: Road tilts against Ohio State (“They’re gonna cream us”) and Nebraska (“I’m tellin’ you, they’re no slouches”) are up next for the Hoosiers.

RICKY-GIRL SPEAKS

While typing these brilliant thoughts, I heard out of the corner of my ear a taped quote from Republican presidential wannabe Rick Santorum on NPR. “We always need a Jesus candidate,” the uber-heterosexual candidate said.

The most closeted of the GOP contenders, Santorum also told the radio interviewer (the interview was not originally on NPR) why he was so dead set against gay marriage. Kids, he pontificated, “have a right to be known and loved by their dad and their mom. That’s what marriage is about. It’s not about two people loving each other.”

Miss Ricky fascinates me more and more each day.

The Touchdown Jesus Candidate

DERBY GIRL IS REALLY A READER

Last month I wrote about my long-standing distrust of people in whose homes books are absent. I said most of my pals display their books the way much of the populace of this holy land shows off their wall-sized flat TV screens.

The upshot was, I shouldn’t be so snobbish — not when I also have friends like Tyler Ferguson, who’s smart as a whip but claims to have neither the time nor the patience to read books.

Well, Tyler can’t say that anymore. She was laid low for three weeks recently by bronchitis. All she had the energy to do was read. She knocked off a number of tomes.

Now that’s she has recovered, she can’t seem to shake the reading bug. Today she’s carrying around “Tomatoland” by Barry Estabrook. “It just opens your eyes to the perils of big ag,” she explains.

BTW, the Bleeding Heartland Roller Girls (Tyler skates as “Kaka Caliente”) begin 2012 competition Saturday, February 4, with the B-Cup Challenge here in Bloomington at the Twin Lakes Recreation Center.

If you’re not there, you’re nowhere.

Bleeding Heartland Roller Girls In Action

SOVIET SNOW

Hard to believe, isn’t it, that not too long ago we all were frightened to death that the leaders of the US and the Soviet Union might push their respective red buttons and blow all our respective cities to smithereens?

Jonathan Schell‘s book, “The Fate of the Earth” in 1982 jump-started the anti-nuke movement with his dramatic descriptions of a massive nuclear exchange by the two superpowers. He cited scientific estimates that such an event might well destroy civilization and even end all life on the planet.

Five years later, New Zealand singer Shona Laing scored a college radio hit with her Cold War deliberation, “Soviet Snow.” She sang, “Are we wide awake? Is the world aware?” She concludes, “We’ve all got one eye on the winter.”

The nuclear winter, of course.

Just a little reminder that even though the Americans and Russians no longer threaten to destroy each other, the newly enlarged nuclear club presents nightmarish scenarios almost as terrifying.

Sweet dreams, kiddies.

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