The Greatest .....
Mohamed Ali passed away last week. I never really cared much for the man, his personality and brashness sort of rubbed me the wrong way. But I will gladly admit that he was a great man. He grew up poor without a father in a lower class neighborhood and had to deal with racial segregation and racism as a youth. He rebelled against all that and used his athletic ability as a platform for social change, to battle injustice and to fight hypocrisy. A worthy legacy for any of us. The world is a better place because he was here. So while I did not care for him personally, I have to admire his ability, tenaciousness and his moral center which benefited all people.
Gordie Howe died this week as well. Now I don’t know diddly about hockey. I am not from Canada, and the idea of grown men putting on ice skates and running around with sticks to hit a solid disk just seems sort of weird in my book. That said, my gosh, I could never do what he did. The agility, athletic prowess and skill needed to excel at hockey for as long as he did is well beyond me. Like Mr. Ali, Mr. Howe left the world a better place when he died.
Unlike Ali, Howe did it the opposite way. Instead of being brash and bold and confrontational, Howe put his head down and just worked at it day after day. Instead of fame garnered in 10 or 15 boxing matches, Mr. Howe went to work every week for decades and in so doing gave the City of Detroit a hero that every young boy could look up to. “You see son, this is what you get with patience, determination and perseverance.”, many a Michigan father would have told his son.
Without a doubt, Ali had the larger impact on society. Mr. Howe didn’t have to deal with racism and segregation. Repressed people all over the world know Ali, only Mid-Westerners and Canadians probably know who Gordie was.
So I was a bit perplexed this past week when I turned on the news and every channel was covering the funeral of Mohamed Ali in great detail, while Gordie Howe only gets a passing reference before the next commercial. I didn’t see any interviews with old teammates, or community leaders or political figures singing Mr. Howe’s praises. But they were all lining up to throw accolades at Ali.
My conundrum here is the uneven media coverage of the two. Broadcast television extols the free thinking radical that shakes up the system. It no longer lauds the hard working every-man who makes a difference through a lifetime of hard work and dedication. Instead it praises the lottery winner or the miner that strikes it rich and not the poor working stiff that scrimps and saves everyday to put their children through college. So why is this? Is this a culture that praises the brash and confrontational or a culture that promotes its long term growth?
My fear here, is that the media is pandering to the lowest common denominator. You don’t have to work hard to get ahead, just be loud, obnoxious and stamp your feet until you get what you want. Who are the people watching all the news stories about Ali? People that want to do it the Ali way? Definitely not the people that did it the Howe way.
In the early days of media, the Howe example was standard. It was the ‘American Way’ to work hard, be honest and seek change within the system. Now the media says rebel against the system, only chumps work hard. The media is pandering to the quick and easy.
They were both great men, worthy of ‘equal’ praise. Which isn’t what they are getting. That makes me angry, because that isn’t indicative of the country that I was raised in.