1. Cassius Marcellus Clay, as Ali often shouted, was “my slave name.”
Nonsense — and from the day he was named.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, 1810-1903, was a Kentucky planter, politician and newspaper publisher who, at enormous risk, was a devoted abolitionist in a state — Ali’s home state — where anti-slavery activism could and did leave one dead.
In 1843, Clay survived a bullet fired by a hired gun of slavery proponents. The founding publisher of an anti-slavery Lexington newspaper, Clay’s shop was wrecked by a mob. Undeterred, he published from Cincinnati.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Clay, appointed minister (what we now call ambassador) to Russia, was among the first and most relentless to urge Lincoln to act to end slavery. Clay donated the land on which Berea College, in 1855, opened — for all races.
The father of baseball Hall of Famer and Ohioan George Sisler was Cassius Clay Sisler, named in honor of this brave abolitionist. As “slave names” went, Ali’s was antithetical.
2. Ali for years suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
Wrong. Parkinson’s disease is mostly a mystery affliction associated with aging. Its syndrome mimics the disease’s symptoms but is both explainable and preventable. Ali’s Parkinson’s syndrome is known as dementia pugilistica — mental and physical debilitation from being hit in the head too often.
When asked about Ali’s health, Don King, who made a fortune from Ali being hit in the head too often, eagerly claimed that Ali has Parkinson’s disease, as if King had nothing to do with it.
Likely the worst beating Ali received was in 1980, at 38, when King was paid to match Ali, his speed and reflexes gone, against Larry Holmes. Requiem for a heavyweight.
I met Ali once, at Pele’s farewell game, 1977, in Giants Stadium. Even then, he appeared glassy eyed, slightly vacant. That he’d fight four more times — 50 more rounds — seems criminal. Ali then lived in a darkening, thickening fog for the next 30 years.
And after King, no one used Ali — until he was all used up — more than the Black Muslims, who would hop on his gravy train and line up for background photo ops until, inevitably, Ali ran low on cash. That’s when his co-religionists were no longer in his picture. Ali, smart as he was, was easily had.