Muhammad Ali: The icon who represented our best selves


Muhammad Ali: The icon who represented our best selves

No athlete has been more written about, talked about, rhapsodized and eulogized and defined and redefined than Muhammad Ali. And that covers “ever.”

In other words, none of them will do him justice, including this.

He is almost surely the one athlete who transcends the history-means-nothing divide between his generation and the two that have followed him. Nobody isn’t aware of him, or his impact upon American and even global culture. He was for decades the most recognizable and ultimately admired athlete in the world, so much so that unlike Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown and Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you almost cannot find a young person who doesn’t nod in appreciation at the mere sound of his name.

In short, they may know all those names, but Ali’s is the one they know viscerally and reflexively.

Ali stood for more than himself in a business that almost demands hyper-narcissism. He didn’t just leave money on the table with his beliefs, he left time at the height of his career on the table as well. Others might well have if they’d been forced to do so, but he’s the one who did it. He spoke loudest in an era in which the idea of athletes speaking out was in its adolescence.

Oh, and he was almost indisputably the greatest boxer of all time when being the greatest boxer meant something more than Floyd Mayweather cashing and flashing his latest check.

He was a towering monolith and an idiosyncrasy, a stalwart and a hyperactive entertainer. He commanded that you watch, and then that you listen. And the nation did, reluctantly at first and eventually with more open minds and hearts. He was a man before, of, and ultimately after his time.

One might make the case that he could not thrive as well in this more cynical, self-obsessed and technologically intrusive time, because what he had to say would more easily be drowned out by hot takes and media covering media and “blackboard material” given full electronic throat. After all, our media fixations devour all their young indiscriminately and without regard to value.

But to assume that Ali could not handle these times as he handled his own is to shortchange his gift for adapting himself to his surroundings, and then standing apart from them. Ali’s extraordinary boxing skills (spend a few days seeking out the highlights – you’ll thank yourself later) were the stairs he climbed to reach the height of his significance because our culture gives more weight to the thoughts of the famous, especially the athletically famous. But once on stage, his communicative skills drew the main spot and the audience’s eyes and ears to him, and his intellect held it there. He was the perfect amalgam for the emerging television age, and the most recognizable spokesman for his time’s most objectionable notions – racial equality, social and economic justice, and freedom of thought and action.

These are social wars we still fight today, and sadly will probably be fighting again in 40 more years – ground seemingly claimed for good will always be disputed by the disputatious. Ali is in many ways as needed now as he was in 1960s and 1970s.

But he also provided the hope that maybe some things can transcend tribalism and the defense of privilege and the malicious distrust of the powerless by the powerful. When he climbed the stairs to light the Olympic torch to begin the 1996 Atlanta games, he had reached the point where he was that most misused of appellations – he was an icon representing our best selves.

We have no such icon now, at a time when we need one as much as we did back at Ali’s cultural height. Even in his physically enforced silence, his mere presence stood for something more than the sum of all our parts.

And maybe we won’t get another; the luck of the draw is a cruel thing. But we – the four generations who spanned his life – had Muhammad Ali, the life he led and the lives he reached. Consider him a gift we must work harder than we are at present to have earned.

Ray Ratto is the Senior Insider for

Former Patriots RB Danny Woodhead announces retirement

Former Patriots RB Danny Woodhead announces retirement

Former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead has announced his retirement after 10 years in the NFL.

The 33-year-old took to Instagram to make it official.

10 years! Wow, God had crazy plans for a small little kid from North Platte, NE! It’s been a wild ride and feel so blessed He allowed me to do what I loved for so long. But now it’s time to say goodbye to the game I love. First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Without Him my career wouldn’t have been possible. He blessed me with the gifts and He paved the way. All I had to do was follow His plans for my life, and His plans were crazy awesome! Next, I want to thank my wife who has been by my side since freshman year of high school. She has been a rock through all the ups and downs. Sis, Willy, Mae Mae, and Hopie your daddy is going to be home a ton more and I can’t wait! Thanks to my Dad and Mom for always supporting me and showing me that God is first, then everything else will fall into place. Ben, Joel, and Anna thanks for preparing me for the NFL in our backyard games growing up. The dreaded in-laws Steve and Suzie for always being there for me. Chris Gittings (agent) you’re the best and thankful your my brother/uncle! Thank you Jets, Patriots, Chargers, and Ravens! Thanks to all my head coaches (Bob Zohner, Brad Smith, Bill O’Boyle, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick, Mike McCoy, and John Harbaugh) who believed in me! To my rbs coaches (coach skiles, coach reiners, Jimmy Raye, A Lynn, Ivan, Ollie, Ridge, and Thomas) thanks for putting up with me. Thanks to all my teammates from high school till now. Without you guys I never would’ve become who I was as a player. To all my olinemen, you guys deserve the credit for anything that I received credit for. I thank you for helping make my career. To all the trainers, team docs, strength coaches, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, body gurus thanks for making sure I was on the field. To all the people who made my life easier at the facility (ops, pr, equipment staff, cafe workers, custodians) thanks and your work doesn’t go unnoticed. And how could i forget all my fans?! You’re the best and have always felt the love and support! I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few but know that I’m thankful for everything everyone has done on my journey.

A post shared by Danny Woodhead (@teamwoody39) on

Thursday, it was reported the Patriots reached out to Woodhead for a possible reunion. 

The last two seasons have been challenging for him, as he dealt with season-ending injuries in both 2016 with the Chargers and 2017 with the Ravens.

Woodhead finishes his career with 2,238 yards rushing, 2,698 yards receiving, 15 rushing touchdowns and 17 receiving touchdowns.


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: C's win despite injuries, Pats make additions

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: C's win despite injuries, Pats make additions

1:20 - Despite throwing a depleted roster out there, the Celtics were able to get back in the win column vs. the Magic. Michael Holley and Tommy Heinsohn break down the win.

6:17 - Finally, the Patriots have done something! On Friday night it was reported that New England signed defensive end Adrian Clayborn as well as running back Jeremy Hill. Tom Curran, Alex Giaimo and Ben Volin discuss the impact these additions will have on the team.

11:05 - While the Celtics were able to pull out the win on Friday, the team did announce that Marcus Smart is expected to miss six to eight weeks after undergoing thumb surgery. A. Sherrod Blakely expresses his optimism on Smart’s return for the playoffs.