Since the legendary Joe Frazier’s death yesterday, I have been reading bits about him and his famous rivalry with Ali. Joe Frazier has the distinction of being the first boxer to ever defeat Ali. Joe wasn’t charismatic as Ali. He was far from good looking. Joe hated Ali for the way Ali taunted him. Prior to the famous trilogy between Frazier and Ali, Ali had called Joe a ‘gorilla’ and then ‘uncle tom’ and then many other derogatory names. Apparently, Joe never got over it.
To Joe’s credit, Joe helped Ali at one important juncture in his boxing career. When Ali was stripped off his title and banished from the boxing league for refusing military service, Joe helped him get back into the boxing league. Joe even met with President Nixon to further Ali’s case. After going through all of this, it really hurt Joe to be taunted by Ali.
I understood where Joe was coming from… but still it seemed odd that a professional boxer should allow such taunts to bother him so much. After all, boxers do that to each other as a ‘sales pitch’ to get media attention and increase ticket sales. Joe should have been aware of this. Ali had a great sales acumen. It was common knowledge within boxing circles that Ali had a lot of respect for Joe as a boxer.
Given all of this, it was still lost on me why Joe hated Ali for the way he was taunted; until I read an article where a close friend who knew both Ali and Joe explains…
“I told Joe years later that Ali was just trying to sell the fight, but Joe said to me, ‘How do you think I feel when he calls me an Uncle Tom? My kids come home from school and tell me the other kids told them their Dad’s a gorilla.’ Joe just couldn’t get over it.”
Now, I understood Joe better… Joe didn’t mind taking a punches Ali, he got loads of it to the point that he couldn’t see with his left eye in the last match with Ali. But he DID mind his kids being affected by Ali’s ‘sales pitch’. He did not want to make his kids pawns in a sales pitch. He wanted to protect his kids from the taunts of other kids.
Joe Frazier was the ‘Papa Gorilla’… We often speak highly of ‘Mama Grizzlies’ but we seldom speak much less understand the ‘Papa Gorillas’ – the ones that go out into the world with the sole purpose of creating for his kids, a better life – a life where his kids would be proud to have been his kids. Not to take the thunder away from Joe Frazier… Even the most narcissistic guy Steve Jobs, towards the end of his life, when he was asked by Brian Williams of MSNBC as to what Jobs considered the most valuable contribution of his life, he thought a bit and then answered with conviction, “his life with his wife and kids”. Brian Williams was a bit surprised but he pressed on, “what about public contributions?”. “Well, that is for others to decide” was his terse reply.
As I stated, I admire strong men. But I have a great adulation for strong men that have a soft, sensitive soul. Joe Frazier in spite of being the strong man willing to get punched in the gut and plummel the other guy with powerful jabs, seemsat his heart to be a man with a soft, sensitive soul. It is said that he lost his fortune by his generosity and naivety. When asked, what he did with all the millions he earned as the heavy weight champion, why he wasn’t a millionaire as his peers Ali and Foreman, he replied, “In a sense I am rich… I have a family… I have a stack of a few 100 dollar bills”. Joe built a close knit family, he trained two of his children to be boxers. He played the guitar. He loved his family.
A man that is a ‘Papa Gorilla’ will die a rich man, it doesn’t matter how much money he has. Riches is in relationships, it takes hard work to build long lasting relationships. Strong relationships are by their very nature, an end in itself. The ‘Papa Gorilla’ needs nothing more than the satisfaction that he has done for his family what best he could do – he has fought a good fight, run a good race. In an era bereft of traditional values, at a time where most men tend to shun responsibility and commitment, ‘Papa Gorillas’, rock! They live forever!