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Muhammad Ali: He fought and he taught

Muhammad Ali: He fought and he taught

As a white kid sports nerd growing up in the late 60s and 70s in the near southwest suburbs, Muhammad Ali, at first, scared me. 

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household with very open-minded parents comfortable enough to eventually follow in my siblings' footsteps to an integrated high school, and I'm glad they did. But little did I know prior to that, except for what I saw on the news, about the times we were in. Riots here about wars overseas. The all-too-slow evolution of this country's segregation and racism. But still, in those times, there was no one, absolutely no one, like Muhammad Ali.

You see, I was used to seeing Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, who probably held some of the same beliefs, deep down, that Ali expressed. But they chose, like many African-American athletes just grateful for the opportunity at the time, not to be IN YOUR FACE. Same for Bob Love and Chet Walker. Norm Van Lier? Maybe not so much (which I learned in the all-too-brief time we'd later work together). But he never mugged, shouted, and expressed himself publicly in such an unfiltered manner as the former Cassius Clay did. I've heard Dick Allen was very much his own man who didn't give a you-know-what, but barely ever expressed that publicly, other than his actions.

And Ali didn't just express himself about how he was going to beat his next opponent (which was a bit shocking for a kid like me, yet entertaining, especially when Howard Cosell would be stuck between him and his upcoming combatant on "Wide World of Sports."). But as my curious "I wanna be a sportscaster" mind read up more about him, I learned more about the risks and sacrifices he took. With the athletes I was familiar with in those times, what Ali did was absolutely nuts. His pushback against being inducted into the Army in 1967 during the Vietnam War took away what likely would've been the three greatest years of The Greatest's career (originally ruled to be five). 

That greatness in the ring extended to blacks who continued to feel, figuratively and literally, racism's sting, never backing down, alongside Malcolm X, choosing principle over the payday of his profession. He was their voice, and a lot of their strength.

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs, and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again: The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."

Wow. 

Can you imagine Michael Jordan, or LeBron James, or (closer to those more volatile times) O.J. Simpson or Reggie Jackson or Wilt Chamberlain being so outspoken on social issues? Those that don't speak out get criticized by some, and they can't be forced to. It's their mirror to look into, their families they have to provide for, their life to live. Off the top of my head, Ali was the lead social voice in those times among a trio that included Jim Brown and eventually, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They were hard to like by those who closed their minds to the big picture. But that didn't stop them. And they were heroes to so many others.

As I grew older, and began to understand why Ali did what he did, he went from a guy I didn't like so much, to one I admired, for taking a stand on issues many were afraid to publicly confront, and be judged by. There were still times I rooted for George Frazier or George Foreman instead. But in the 70s, heavyweight championship bouts were events I'd await updates on, and was curious about, just as much as the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs and White Sox.

Ali, in his comeback, was the very center of that universe, egotistical as ever. But it was part of the show. I "got it." And it made it more entertaining. If you've never seen "When We Were Kings," it's Exhibit A to the global power Ali had established by 1974.

Perhaps those three years he was out of the ring helped him stay with us a little longer. The ravages of his profession through Parkinson's Disease and dementia took the true Ali away from us so long ago. Think about it: It's been twenty years since he lit the cauldron, shaking, at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. He's fought to stick around this long.

Imagine if this city had a hero so admired, yet so outspoken, during these increasingly volatile times in Chicago, and the voice he'd provide to inspire an avenue for change.

As we enter this presidential election that sits atop a powder keg that could take this society backwards 30 or 40 years, could Ali's voice from 1967 knock some sense into enough of us like one of his uppercuts, before his profession was taken away from him for his views?

We all have our freedoms to express ourselves, and to believe in what we think is right. Ali finally lost this last fight late Friday at age 74. These are days many of us have anticipated for years as we've observed and heard about his condition deteriorating. Whether you still feel the way I first did when I saw and heard him as a somewhat isolated white kid from the suburbs, or grew to observe and admire his bravery in and out of the ring, both then and in the years since, it's hard to argue one point: No one provided an example so fearless in the public eye, between sports and society, as Ali.

He was The Greatest.

ICYMI: The Bears lose a shootout, the Bulls drop their home-opener and the Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

ICYMI: The Bears lose a shootout, the Bulls drop their home-opener and the Blackhawks

It was a busy weekend for Chicago sports fans, from the Bulls' home-opener, to two Blackhawks games and a shootout at Soldier Field between the Bears and Patriots.

Bears

The Bears came a yard away on a Hail Mary pass from forcing overtime, ultimately losing a 38-31 shootout to the Patriots and showing they still have much to prove. Mitchell Trubisky said that there is a new standard and that coming up short is not good enough anymore.

While Trubisky's accuracy was uneven Sunday, he showed continued development, throwing for 300+ yards for the third straight game. He also scored on a nifty eight-yard rushing touchdown in which he covered 71.9 yards of distance.

While the Bears struggled to contain the Patriots' offense and recorded just one sack, the defense is still confident in the unit and team overall. 

Bulls

Off the court, Denzel Valentine suffered a setback on his injured left ankle and will be reevaluated in two weeks. On the court, the Bulls' defense cost them Saturday against the Pistons, but especially late on Ish Smith's game-winning basket for the Pistons.

With Kris Dunn on paternity leave, the Bulls signed guard Shaquille Harrison and waived center Omer Asik. The move comes on the heels of Fred Hoiberg saying potential lineup changes are "still up in the air." 

The Bulls also announced three broadcasters that will call the first five road games minus-longtime play-by-play man Neil Funk. Funk is cutting 20 road games from his schedule this season.

Blackhawks

Corey Crawford picked up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017, leading the Blackhawks to victory in vintage fashion. The Blackhawks were outshot 28-15 through two periods, and Crawford stood tall en route to a 4-1 Blackhawks' win.

Following his return from a major injury, the Blackhawks will monitor Crawford's workload moving forward. 

Meanwhile, in Columbus, Blue Jackets forward Anthony Duclair regrets not making the most of his stint with the Blackhawks last season. Also, the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks are both experiencing challenges as a result of the Brandon Saad-Artemi Panarin trade from last summer.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they set an NHL record and tied a franchise record (confusing, we know) by allowing 33 shots on goal during the second period Sunday. The Blackhawks ultimately fell 6-3, though Alexandre Fortin scored his first career NHL goal in the process.

NBC Sports Regional Networks launches MyTeams app

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Regional Networks launches MyTeams app

                                                                                   FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND MOBILE APP PROVIDES FANS COMPREHENSIVE MULTI-MEDIA EXPERIENCE COVERING NFL, NBA, NHL AND MLB TEAMS

LIVE STREAMS OF BLACKHAWKS/BULLS/CUBS/WHITE SOX GAMES, INCLUDING PREGAME AND POSTGAME SHOWS, AMONG CONTENT HIGHLIGHTS

LIVE AND ON-DEMAND VIDEO, AUDIO AND WRITTEN CONTENT NOW GIVES FANS EXPANDED ACCESS TO THEIR FAVORITE CHICAGO PRO TEAMS

STAMFORD, Conn./CHICAGO, Ill. – Oct. 16, 2018 – NBC Sports Regional Networks today launched MyTeams by NBC Sports, a first-of-its-kind, team-focused mobile app that provides fans customized, all-in-one access to complete coverage of their favorite teams — highlighted by live-game streaming of all NBC Sports Chicago pro game telecasts featuring the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox.  MyTeams aggregates all multi-media content focused on the 25 NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB teams covered by NBC Sports Regional Networks, which includes the Chicago Bears. Starting now, fans anywhere in the U.S. can download MyTeams for free on iOS and Android devices in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

MyTeams’ innovative design features individual feeds for each team. Fans select their favorite team or teams, with no limit, in order of preference, to create a customized content offering that matches their passions, priorities and interests. MyTeams’ robust complement of live and on-demand video, podcasts and written content gives fans a single source to easily find, access and consume all of the coverage that matters most to them – including live games in the market where they subscribe, news, entertainment, analysis, commentary and more. The app’s user-friendly interface and creative presentation allow fans to navigate easily between all of their favorite teams.

MyTeams is highlighted by live coverage of NBA, NHL and MLB games produced by NBC Sports Chicago, NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Northwest, NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBC Sports Washington. Live streams of the networks’ pregame and postgame shows, including NFL programs, will also be available on MyTeams. Live-game coverage will automatically play at the top of the respective team pages when available to fans. Authenticated subscribers of the local NBC Sports Regional Network providing the coverage in their region will be able to watch complete live games and game day shows, as well as the network’s linear television channel, from anywhere in the U.S. at no additional cost.

MyTeams pages are available for six NFL teams, seven NBA teams, five NHL teams and seven MLB teams: The NFL’s Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins; NBA’s Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards; NHL’s Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals; MLB’s Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals.