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SCORECARD
Edited by WALTER BINGHAM
March 20, 1978
KING, BUT NO KING
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March 20, 1978

Scorecard

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KING, BUT NO KING

As the proposed Leon Spinks-Muhammad Ali fight wends its farcical way from Bophutha Tswana to Mauritius to whither next, a basic misconception has arisen. It is that if Ali realized that Bophutha Tswana (mercifully known as Boff) was a puppet regime set up by South Africa to perpetuate apartheid or that South African money was behind the fight, whether it be staged in Boff or Mauritius, he would not set foot in either country. "It is inconceivable that Muhammad Ali could accept South African money," said a black South African expatriate. And Charles Lomax, Ali's attorney, said, "If people like the NAACP say it would not be in the best interests of black Americans, we won't fight there. We are going to be responsive to valid concerns because that's what Ali stands for."

Well, maybe. Ali is praiseworthy on many counts, but this is hardly one of them. For example, in 1972, after having acquiesced to the desires of black African nations and canceled a fight in South Africa, Ali engaged in some naive and self-indulgent finger-wagging. "I don't think it's fair for me," he said, "to turn down some $400,000 or $500,000 to personally sacrifice for them and their causes without them doing something. Like if we have another Attica case, I want those African nations to stand up for us here.... The next time something big happens to black people in this country and all those African and Moslem nations don't speak up for us, after we stood up for them.... I'm going to tell them what they can do, and I'm going over there to South Africa and have a great time."

Nor is Ali a black Gene McCarthy, as many of his admirers hold him up to be. He refused to go into the Army in 1967 not because he thought the Vietnam war immoral, but because at that time Black Muslims tried to avoid service, claiming they had no truck with wars that weren't waged against enemies of Allah, and because the Muslims convinced Ali that some cracker sergeant would try to kill him in an "accident" on the grenade range. The celebrated quote—"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Congs"—was wheedled out of him by persistent reporters.

For the most part, Ali developed his anti-war—as opposed to anti-induction or pro-Ali—stance when he picked up vibrations from audiences on college campuses where he gave speeches while he was unjustly prevented from fighting for a living. Similarly, he does not have the selflessness or fixity of purpose to be an effective advocate of civil rights, a role that has been thrust upon him by his idolaters and one that is largely the result of wishful thinking.

This is not to belittle Ali, who in several conspicuous ways is, indeed, The Greatest. But as Julian Bond, of all people, wrote years ago: "Look at that gal shake that thing/Everybody can't be Martin Luther King."

SWIFT JUSTICE

One thing the three youths trying to burglarize the downstairs apartment in New London, Conn. failed to consider was the man living upstairs. As they fled with stereo equipment, they heard someone yelling for them to stop. When they did not, the chase began.

Through snowdrifts, across backyards and over fences, Ambrose Burfoot pursued one of the thieves. "I kept shouting, 'I'm gonna catch you. I'm gonna catch you,' " says Burfoot. "I didn't have time to tell him who I was."

Burfoot, 31, was the winner of the 1967 IC4A cross-country title and the 1968 Boston Marathon. On the day of the burglary he was home for lunch, watching his infant son while his wife jogged with the family dog, when he heard suspicious noises downstairs. Burfoot, who like most addicted runners generally wears running shoes, finally caught up with the culprit after about half a mile. He turned him over to the police, who later caught his partners in the break-in.

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