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This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Muhammad Ali may be the most famous American athlete ever. His life is the subject of books, documentaries and feature films.
Eig spent four years researching Ali’s life, speaking with his three surviving wives, his managers and hundreds of others. He reviewed previously unreleased FBI files and found audiotaped interviews from the 1960s. Eig’s new book is a compelling story of Ali’s remarkable boxing career, his role as a draft resister, social critic and symbol of African American aspirations, his long association with the Nation of Islam and his colorful and often chaotic personal life.
Canada Goose online Jonathan Eig’s written for The New York Times, The New Yorker and other publications. I spoke with Eig last year when his book “Ali: A Life” was published. It comes out in paperback next month. Canada Goose online
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canada goose deals DAVIES: Well, Jonathan Eig, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know Muhammad Ali did he have big ambitions as a kid? canada goose deals
JONATHAN EIG: The biggest. You know, he started saying when he was 12, the very first time he stepped into a boxing ring, he started saying, canada goose outlet store uk I’m going to be the greatest boxer of all time; I’m going to be the heavyweight champion of the world. You know, it’s preposterous he didn’t, first of all, know if he was going to grow big enough to be a heavyweight. He absolutely believed it. He would sit in class, dreaming of hearing his accomplishments announced on the loudspeaker. He would doodle pictures of himself you know, Golden Gloves, robe. He just had canada goose vest outlet this vision that that’s what he was going to do. And he told everybody from the earliest possible age. This was not something that he cooked up when he became, you know, the Muhammad Ali. He always believed in himself somehow.
DAVIES: And Cadillacs and big houses were part of the dream, too.
canada goose black friday sale EIG: (Laughter) Yeah, he talked all the time about these mansions he was going to build and how many Cadillacs he was going to own. And he always talked about building housing projects and buying a house and living above canada goose parka outlet uk the housing project. He had these very specific dreams. And before certain fights, canada goose discount uk it would be a certain car that if I win this fight, I’m going to be able to canada goose outlet 80 off buy that tomato red Cadillac with the white upholstered seats. canada goose black friday sale
You know, he was definitely interested in the fame and the money and just this image that he had of what it would take what it would be like to be a successful, wealthy man. And, you know, you’ve got to remember. This is a, you know, a black kid growing up in Jim Crow America who’s being told by society, by the law that he is inferior. So this is a you know, a dream of even greater magnitude than you can imagine today.
DAVIES: How did he get into boxing?
EIG: It’s a great story. It’s one of those legends that actually turns out to be true, which is (laughter) canada goose outlet in chicago always kind of a pleasant surprise for me. He was riding his bicycle one day. He had a brand new $50 Schwinn. And you know, for his family his dad, you know, was a sign painter, made some made canada goose outlet toronto location decent money but wasn’t well off by any stretch. So he had this $50 Schwinn that he shared with his brother, and they were riding it together. They went downtown with a couple of other friends. It started to rain, so they ducked into this building. And when they came back out, the bike was gone and stolen.
canada goose coats on sale So Ali was furious. He was Cassius Clay at that point. But he was furious. He went looking for the kids who stole his bike. Then he went looking for canada goose outlet toronto address a police officer to report the crime. And he found a police officer, a guy named Joe Martin, working in the basement of the Columbia auditorium. And in the basement, Joe Martin was giving a boxing clinic, teaching kids how to box. And Ali was just immediately entranced. He almost forgot about his bike. canada goose coats on sale
canada goose clearance sale He got so excited seeing the boxing gym, smelling the sweat and maybe most importantly canada goose outlet washington dc seeing black kids and white kids in the ring together. This was a black kid hitting a white kid in the face. You were not supposed to do that in any other part of cheap canada goose jackets America. But the boxing ring it was OK. And Ali became just fascinated and went back to that gym day after day and became the hardest worker in Joe Martin’s gym. canada goose clearance sale
DAVIES: Right. And so he got good at it. canada goose outlet winnipeg He developed his own style. He started competing in amateur bouts and the Golden Gloves. What was his style? What was distinctive about his approach?
canadian goose jacket EIG: His style was very unusual. He was canada goose premium outlet a big, long limbed kid, but he fought like a featherweight or a middleweight at least. He was very quick, almost impossibly quick. And his technique was lousy. He never learned to keep his hands up. He never learned to duck punches because he canada goose outlet edmonton thought he was so quick. canada goose stockists uk He didn’t need to. He could just quick move his head out of the way at canada goose outlet black friday the last second before a punch arrived. And it was completely instinctive. Nobody taught him to box that way. In fact, Joe Martin tried to teach him not to box that way. But it worked for him ’cause his talents were so superb. canadian goose jacket
buy canada goose jacket And in addition to being quick, he had this left jab that looked like it wasn’t hurting. You know, he just flicked that left jab out canada goose sale uk lightning fast. And man, that thing would start to wear you down after a while. Big guys much bigger guys would get in the ring with him and saying, this guy can hurt me; he’s just this long limbed, you know, speedster, but he’s he can’t possibly hurt me. But after a round or two, that jab started to wear out even the big guys. buy canada goose jacket
buy canada goose jacket cheap DAVIES: Right. And the jab comes it’s the initiating blow just straight out, and it can hurt. buy canada goose jacket cheap
canada goose clearance EIG: That’s right. And you can use it for defense, and you can keep your man away for a long time. And that allowed him to measure his punches, too. That allowed him to know where his opponent was and keep him where he wanted. But it wasn’t just defense. That thing hurt after a while. And I learned something interesting, too, about this. You know, everybody kind of wondered why Ali was had this miraculous ability to dodge a punch. And some doctors I talked to said that it might have actually been connected to his dyslexia, that when you’re dyslexic, your brain works differently. canada goose clearance
cheap Canada Goose When you learn to read, your brain gets rewired so that you focus really carefully on one thing. You can concentrate really hard on those letters on the page. But when you never learn to read, your brain remains more accessible to outside forces. You can maybe hear and understand two conversations at one time because your brain hasn’t canada goose outlet jackets been rewired by the process of learning to read. cheap Canada Goose
Canada Goose Parka And Ali, because he learned to read very late and never really very well, may have been better at picking up visual clues than most people. canada goose outlet in vancouver He may have been able to see little signs in the in his opponent’s body that suggested when and where the punch was going to come. And it’s a fascinating theory I think. Canada Goose Parka
Canada Goose Outlet DAVIES: He wins the gold medal in the Olympics in Rome in 1960 right? and then comes back a bit of a celebrity, right? How does he get together the financing for a career? I mean, this is not a kid who had any money. Canada Goose Outlet
canada goose EIG: After the Olympics, what happened to Ali is really unusual and maybe unique in the history of boxing to that point. These very wealthy, white businessmen from Louisville they called themselves the Louisville Sponsoring Group decided basically to finance and manage Ali’s career for him, to keep him away from the dangerous elements that were in boxing at the time. They didn’t want him to fall into the hands of some of the people who are associated with the Mafia, which was really a, you know, prevalent force in the boxing world. canada goose
And these guys had so much money. They weren’t in it for themselves. They thought they might make a canada goose outlet buffalo little profit on it if Ali’s career went well, but they knew that most boxers did not rise to the championship. They were doing it as kind of a civic deed. They thought that this was good for the community, that it was good for one of their own to help this kid from the West End of Louisville to become you know, to go as far as he could with this boxing thing. He had a gold medal already, so there was certainly some promise.
canada goose coats And these guys put Ali on a salary, which was completely unheard of for boxing. He was guaranteed money every month, every year regardless of how well he boxed. They managed his fights. They chose the fights for him. They hired a trainer for him. They paid all his expenses, all of his food and lodging bills. It was really an extraordinary deal and a great relationship that Ali treasured for years. canada goose coats
DAVIES: So he does well, begins winning professional fights. And then at some point, another force in his life emerges, and that’s the Nation of Islam. Talk a bit about his perceptions of race and how you know, how the Nation of Islam appealed to him.
Canada Goose sale EIG: Well, Ali was the same age as Emmett Till. And everybody knew what had happened to Emmett Till for speaking back, giving sass to a white woman. He was, you know, killed brutally, and the killers got away with it. And Ali’s father was a race man. He was a Garvey, I do believe, that black people were never going to get a fair deal in this country. They just have to go back to Africa if they were ever going to have a fair shake. Canada Goose sale
And Ali grew up steeped in that kind of thinking and talking. And when he heard about the Nation of Islam, https://www.canadagoosepark.com which was this little known group at the time but was a growing force, especially in American ghettos and in American prisons where they did a lot of outreach work, here was a group saying that a little bit like what his father had been saying that America was never going to be fair to African Americans, that their only hope was to form their own powerful organization, to start their own businesses and eventually to force America to give them their own territory. And Ali heard about this.
I found the letter that he wrote when he first explained why he became a Muslim, why he got interested in Nation of Islam. And it wasn’t really about the religion. It was about the cultural issues. He bought into this. He loved this idea that black people could take responsibility for their own lives. And I think this, for somebody who is boxing, who is having the opportunity to build his own life, to through discipline, through training, hard work and getting the ability to be treated as an equal at least in the boxing ring, the Nation of Islam really struck a chord with him.
DAVIES: The leader of course was Elijah Muhammad. But a rising star within the Nation of Islam was Malcolm X who later had a falling out with the leadership of the Nation of Islam and was murdered. He became close to Ali. What was their relationship like.