Almost 20 years ago, I found myself walking north up Broad street in Philadelphia. I was new to the city and still trying to learn my way around. The side of the street I was on decided it didn't want a sidewalk part of it anymore, so I jaywalked in a diagonal pattern across Broad street to make use of the sidewalk on that side of the street. There was a yellow Mercedes double parked in the right lane that I started to walk around via the front of the car. I glanced quickly at the man sitting behind the steering wheel with the windows rolled down that hot August day. i almost tripped on my face while stopping in my tracks.
Joe Frazier! Smoking Joe Frazier! World Champion! Olympic Hero!The man in the middle of boxing's heyday. The object of social discussion in subjects of politics, patriotism, skin color, the class system of America and many other branches of discussion from his battles with Muhammed Ali. Ali even set off a ridiculous debate by trying to label Frazier " a Uncle Tom" because Frazier was an Olympic hero, which many saw as a pot shot by a jealous Ali. Frazier's passion was boxing, not politics or debate. Yet he was drawn into these worlds, even after being angered by Alis words. Some would say he was hurt a little as well being questioned as a black man in America by a fellow American black man. Joe sat in his car with his eyes half closed listening to some R&B lightly playing on his car radio, then saw me staring like a kid who just saw Superman emerge from his fortress of solitude. Being too young to truly understand at the time all the grief, anger, and hatred he had to fight, along with Ali, Foreman, Norton and others, all I knew was he was a great athlete,legendary boxer and purported to be generous and respected in the city of Brotherly Love.
A million thoughts ran through my head upon eye contact. I wanted to ask him about Manila, Ali, if thoughts were going through his head as he ran in place sideways seconds before Foreman sent him into the first row. Why Norton seemed to give him a harder fight than Ali. What path his career might have taken if he fought once a year as they do now, instead of the 3-4 or more times a year they fought then. What I actually did was extend my hand to shake, which he took, and thanked him for all he did for America via leadership , patriotism, and entertainment. I mentioned no other boxer and didn't want to be a bother. I left lamenting no boxer even then, about twenty years ago, seemed to have the heart or even aura of him or even the guys he beat. All he did was smile and said,"Thank You." Boxing's time has run out. UFC and venues like it have surpassed boxing. The heavyweight division not having a true heavyweight as a champion since Larry Holmes has also added to the publics disdain.
Murderers turned boxing promoters, like Don King, just add to the disdain. His crude treatment of his boxers, let alone the theft from them, just enforces the feelings more. Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali's times have not yet run out though. We need to embrace these men now and thank them. Daily. Never again will sports produce men who faced the mayhem these men faced. They handled it classy in many estimations. We, as Americans and as human beings, must take the time to thank them as they used their time on earth to help us.