Imagining a 21st Century Muhammad Ali Taking on Climate Change


Muhammad Ali never spoke about climate change or global warming, at least that’s what a Google search revealed. Of course that’s understandable since the issue’s awareness, acceptance by the scientific community and much of the public, and importance reached critical mass long after the ravages of Parkinson’s Syndrome largely took away Ali’s ability to speak. Had he not suffered from that condition, would he have taken on the climate crisis? Who knows? But given that its effects will most certainly be felt most harshly by the people he seemed to care most about (beyond his inner circle)–the abject poor, the disaffected, the disenfranchised in the developing world, it’s possible to imagine that he would’ve used his unparalleled verbal gifts to lend his voice to the climate change fight. So here’s GreenSportsBlog’s take on how The Greatest might have opined on the Inconvenient Truth.

If you are over all of the Ali tributes that have poured out since the news of his death late Friday night, in the words of Bill Clinton, “Ah feel your pain.” Feel free to skip this column but please do come back to GreenSportsBlog soon as we will be up with at least one if not two more posts this week.
Now, a few points before we get to Ali’s imagined opining on climate. I am 57 years old. My childhood recollections of Ali included:

  • His surgical destruction of Ernie Terrell in February 1967, a few days after I turned 8 was the first Ali fight I actually remember.


Ernie Terrell (l) ducks a right hand from Muhammad Ali in their February, 1967 fight in the Houston Astrodome, the first Ali fight I ever saw (Photo credit: The Guardian)


  • His being banned from boxing because of his refusal to accept being drafted by the army to fight in Vietnam. I thought this was unfair and that Ali was right (my parents, being anti-Vietnam War, probably had something to do with this.) I was an Ali guy for sure…
  • …Some of my friends were as well. But when it came to The Fight of the Century, the first fight between undefeated Ali vs. undefeated and heavyweight champ Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, memory has it that most of the kids in my 6th grade class in Fairfield, CT were for the more establishment-friendly Frazier. Twelve year old me was devastated when Ali lost the 15 round decision that night.
  • I thought it was funny at the time but Ali’s portrayal of Frazier as a “Gorilla” and an “Uncle Tom” was cruel, even if it was showmanship. He, like all of us, was no saint.
  • His verbal bouts with Howard Cosell had a lot to do with it, as did his cool–in fact my sports idols from that era all had tons of cool: Ali, Walt “Clyde” Frazier and my #1, Joe Willie Namath.

If you want to get the gist of Ali, watch the Oscar winning documentary from 1996, “When We Were Kings,” about his fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, with the seemingly unbeatable and indestructible George Foreman.
OK, enough with the preliminaries–it’s time for the Main Event: Imagining a 21st century Ali, unencumbered by Parkinson’s Syndrome, riffing on climate change. For this interview, we also imagine that Howard Cosell did not pass away in 1995 and, in fact, still lives and maintains his staccato, nasal, verbal acuity.
Howard Cosell: Muhammad! Muhammad! I wanted to ask you…
Muhammad Ali: …Howard, Howard, every time you open your mouth, you should be arrested for air pollution!
Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.14.31 PM

Muhammad Ali talks to Howard Cosell as Sammy Davis Jr. laughs during the post-fight interview after Ali won a fight versus Joe Bugner at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1973. (Photo credit: Neil Leifer)

Cosell: I’ll ignore that weak-minded insult and say that it’s prescient and apropos you should mention air pollution, Muhammad. Your stalwart outspokenness against the Vietnam War is legendary, thanks largely to your conversations with THIS reporter. Less well known is your decades long fight against oppression of people of color all over the world. With that in mind I wonder what you think about a scourge that is already affecting the afflicted and that is climate change…
Ali: Howard, of climate change’s reality, there is no doubt. Humanity needs to band together to knock it out!
Cosell: Very clever, champ. And oh so true. But that has proven to be…Easier…Said…Than…Done.
Ali: Cosell, that hair on top of yo’ head is fake, but denying climate change is a big mistake!
Cosell: But denial and skepticism about climate change is still real, at least in some quarters.
Ali: Oh I know…A denial mania has gripped the GOP. They need some new glasses so they can see. Forget Frazier, forget Foreman…The real chumps are guys like Inhofe, Cruz and Trump!
Cosell: A bunch of scientific Lilliputians if you ask me.
Ali: Nobody asked you, Howard! I’d like to debate these chumps! It ain’t no jive, Trump would go down in 5 (minutes).
Cosell: But do you know climate science?
Ali: Ah’m not a scientist, Howard, but I don’t have to be. That’s because I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; the seriousness of the climate crisis is obvious, even to a child of three!
Cosell: That’s great, Muhammad, but…
Ali: …We have to go beyond this insane partisan friction and start to curb our carbon addiction!
Cosell: I know that. You know that. But what about the vast majority of your fans, here and around the world, who rank climate change near the veritable bottom on the list of their concerns?
Ali: That’s why the climate change movement needs me, Howard!
You know ah’m fast, you know ah’m pretty and you know ah’m witty!
Cosell: And it’s that last part—your searing wit—that the climate change movement so desperately needs.
Ali: That’s right. And climate change is our toughest opponent…
Cosell: You mean tougher than the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis and the only undefeated heavyweight champ, Rocky Marciano?
Ali: No, Howard! I mean racism, xenophobia, extreme poverty, war, illness. All of those are even tougher than those guys–I woulda beaten ’em both–and even me… Cosell: Your humility overwhelms me…
Ali: So I propose the Climate Reality Tour…I’ll get in the ring with my good friend, Al Gore. He’ll give the scientific climate score. And then I win the crowd over like I always did, with poetry, dancing and verse…tell ‘em that facing climate change will be tough, but doing nothing is much, much worse.

GreenSportsBlog imagines a Climate Reality Tour with a healthy Muhammad Ali and Al Gore would’ve packed ’em in–and made a difference in the acceptance of the urgency of climate change. (Photo credit: Ali-Business Insider; Gore-NY Post)

Cosell: Even I would pay good money to see that, Muhammad.
Ali: Howard, that’s why I’ll be the Greatest Climate Change Fighter of ALL TIMES!

Please comment below!
Email me: lew@greensportsblog.com
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  1. LOVE the idea of an imaginary Green Sports Reality Tour!

  2. I know–I’m only sorry it has to be an imaginary tour!

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