I have not commented on the death last week of boxer Floyd Patterson. Eugene Kane thought it significant to comment on Muhammed Ali's victories over Patterson and ultimate ascendency in the public imagination. Prior to a 1965 bout, Patterson refused to call the fighter formerly known (and, at the time, still generally referred to) as Cassius Clay by his new Muslim name. Ali put a pretty serious beating on Patterson and, as Kane notes, shouted "what's my name" everytime he pounded Patterson's face.
This, according to Kane, was an event of some social import. It was, he says, the era of Black Power (I think it was mostly still nascent but the point is right) and "Patterson's disrespect of Ali gained him many fans in white America, but many blacks felt he deserved his beating at the hands of Ali for refusing to say his proper name." There is, he implies, a lesson in this. "Fast-forward 40 years, Muhammad Ali is one of the most respected black athletes alive.
Funny how things turn out."
I suppose. Malcom had his virtues. But so did Martin. And so did Floyd Patterson.
I actually remember that fight. I think it was the first boxing match I ever saw. What struck me about it was not Ali's superiority (although it was evident and overwhelming), but Patterson's courage in refusing to quit.
David Gamble, writing on NRO, comments on Patterson's humility:
Outside the ring Patterson was quiet spoken and mild mannered. He was unfailingly gracious and polite and never bragged about his accomplishments, in contrast to so many “in your face” modern athletes who chest-thump and preen. Even in a sport as genteel as golf, Tiger Woods, with his fist-pumping, club throwing, and swearing, could learn something from Patterson about humility.
Patterson was Gamble's boyhood hero and he too was taken by Patterson's resilience. Patterson rose from childhood poverty and life in a reform school to become the heavyweight championship of the world and, later in life, chairman of the New York Athletic Commission and counselor to troubled children. “They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most, but I also got up the most.”
Gamble wishes for a few more athletes like Patterson. So do I.