By: John Ramsey
"Impossible is just a small word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given rather than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact, it's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing" Muhammad Ali
Those words and their meaning were spoken and confirmed in many well documented chapters of Muhammad Ali’s life. As an aspiring boxer, Cassius Clay was signing his name and writing "the next heavyweight champion" when he was only 12-year-old. Cassius was likely unaware that he was a pioneer in the tried and true method of writing down personal goals.
Many would have thought his dream was impossible. Golden Gloves titles, Olympic Gold medal winner, and THREE time Heavyweight Champion of The World ... check, check, check. The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and The BBC all voted him Sportsman of the Century. If impossible is potential, then certainly Muhammad's athletic potential was realized ... and then some.
While Ali’s mixture of speed, agility, size and power can be attributed to God given talent, allow me to reference another one of his famous quotes: "The will has to outweigh the skill." Muhammad's tenacity and dedication to his sport maximized his gifts. He gave no respect or acknowledgement to words like "impossible" and "unattainable." He put in the work.
Even more interesting and also seemingly impossible is the thought that this gifted and driven athlete could become one the most polarizing and hated figures of the 20th century, but still one of the most beloved and respected men in history. How is it possible that this boxer could stand shoulder to shoulder with the visionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and personally have such a positive impact on The Civil Rights Movement? How could a man who is paid to inflict violence influence so many Americans to question our country's involvement in Vietnam?
Chew on this: A peaceful boxer. A period of distaste and disapproval, but also of attachment and respect. A man hated then loved. Muhammad Ali was a freakish but beautiful oxymoron.
I am often asked if I can explain the love and very personal feelings that people have for Muhammad Ali. I have come to this conclusion: Muhammad was real. He was authentic to the core. Nothing manufactured, no pretense, no agenda. He was never driven by his bank account, or managerial advice from a well meaning PR firm. He was a man of conviction, and his brain worked in perfect tandem with his heart. His love for people was in no way forced, it was as pure.
That compassion and love for people is, in my opinion, his greatest gift. If you met Muhammad he'd ask you about your kids, your job, he would jokingly flirt with your wife. If you felt a connection with Muhammad, then believe me, he felt it too. He genuinely wanted to engage, to laugh, to hug, to sign all those treasured autographs and to pose for all those priceless photos.
Muhammad was a true ambassador of happiness, and he did it effortlessly because he was uber-comfortable in his own skin and thrived on the love that so many gave to him. I believe that part of the human experience is to seek authenticity. If you are trying to buy favor for a certain company or create a positive image for a product then job one is to present it as authentic.
As any advertising agency or PR firm knows, being "real" and genuine is critical. The executives at Coca-Cola realized there was a thirst for authenticity when they coined the phrase "It's the real thing." It’s hard to define but easy to recognize, and it seems that as I grow older I see less and less of it.
One of the best examples of authenticity can be found in children. It’s all they know. They act and reflect exactly who they are because they have yet to discover the temptations of ulterior motives of being proper or dishonest. In a beautiful way, Muhammad retained much of his boy-like qualities.
As a proud African American he saw plenty of injustices, more than his share of discrimination and unfairness. As history proves, Muhammad took action. Popular or not, he stayed true to his beliefs and convictions. There is no way to over-emphasize his vast and far reaching impact. Somehow, through one of the most turbulent times in American history, he remained kind and continued to believe in the innate goodness of people. His authentic heart prevailed. His entire life was dedicated to seeking out those who needed him and his exposure to the injustices did not weaken his love for people.
Will we ever see another like Muhammad Ali? A man so inspiring and so impactful to so many people around the globe? Is the "Ali magic" impossible to duplicate? Personally I struggle with the loss of such a great friend. I wonder, is it impossible for Muhammad to continua to inspire love and kindness? "Impossible is nothing."
One year ago Louisville produced Muhammad's final and finest moment. The world saw an entire city come together and reflect on the life and values of a man who loved life and people so very deeply. He loved this city and this city loved him back. You felt it. I felt it. The memories that you have are personal, but the love that day was real and shared. We all felt it because it was authentic.
Rest in peace, champ.