President could learn important lesson from Ali

Berl Falbaum

There is a lesson in sports that might help the country decide whether President Biden should end his re-election campaign, a lesson that might even help the 81-year-old Biden make a decision.

To judge the issue, however, we need to put aside, for once, politics, and instead, at least for a moment, consider the emotional and psychological factors involved.

Here is a man, Biden, who has been an exceptional president — he is rated the 14th best president in U.S. history by scholars — and who doesn’t want to surrender to age, believing he still has the capabilities to lead the country.

He is fighting Father Time as well as his pride and a belief in himself. Giving up is not easy to do. For those with aging parents or grandparents, try taking their car keys away.

Which brings us to an analogy in sports. It involves “The Greatest,” i.e. Muhammad Ali who had to make a similar decision on whether, at 38, he should try to regain the world heavyweight championship and fight Larry Holmes, the champion.

He was advised not to return to the ring by his trainers, family, and, most importantly, by Holmes. At 38, he was too old for the brutal sport and, some said, already showed early signs of having Parkinson’s disease. At a pre-fight physical examination, he reportedly had trouble hopping on one leg, touching a finger to his nose, had tingling in his hands and his speech was slurred.

“I used to say to Ali, ‘You know they want us to fight,’” Holmes recalled in interviews. “I said, ‘But I don’t want to fight. And don’t you fight me, because your mind is making a date your body can’t keep. You can’t keep up with me anymore’.”

Holmes told him on numerous occasions, “Man, you need to stop taking all those punches and he would say ‘shut the hell up’ or ‘get the hell out.’”

Ali, however, did not listen. On October 2, 1980 in Las Vegas, he stepped into the ring to the cheers of adoring fans.

It was clear as soon as the bell sounded for the first round, that Ali was not the “greatest,” he was not even good. I watched the fight and it was a pitiful sight.

Holmes recognized that Ali could not even defend himself, let alone throw any punches. Holmes held back and even pleaded with the referee, Richard Green, to stop the fight. Green admonished Holmes, telling him “Box and shut up.”

Holmes retorted: “I’m beating him up. What do I have to do, kill him?” The fight continued.

“I didn’t try to hurt him or kill him. I wasn’t no mercenary that night. I slapped punches and open-handed punches and called the referee cuz he couldn’t throw punches. I wasn’t hitting him hard no more, just trying to make him quit.

“I could do pretty much what I wanted to do, but as the rounds end, I said to Ali, ‘Don’t keep taking these punches, don’t take no more shots.’”

Holmes landed 340 punches to Ali’s 42.

The colorful sports announcer, Howard Cosell, who provided analysis at ringside, repeatedly told his audience the fight, the onslaught, had to be stopped.

“It was really sad,” recalled journalist Dave Kindred. “It was like watching a train wreck, watching a friend get run over by a truck.”

Even though Holmes did not unleash his most devastating punches, Ali took a beating and his trainer, Angelo Dundee — ignoring Ali’s protests — stopped the fight at the end of the 10th round. It was scheduled for 15 rounds.

Holmes cried “like a baby” in his dressing room after the fight. Before turning pro, he had been a sparring partner for Ali between 1971-75 and he loved the man.

After the fight, Holmes visited a severely bruised Ali. He hugged and kissed Ali, telling him, “You’re the greatest ever in my book. I love you, man.”

Ali replied, “If you loved me, why’d you beat me up like that?”

Holmes explained to interviewers: “You don’t stand around taking punches. The object of the game is to hit and not get hit. When he (Ali) was young, he could do all that; he was moving, he was blocking, so he seen everything coming at him.”

Perhaps Biden’s trainers need to assure him of his outstanding legacy, that he is loved and respected, but that he cannot take or throw the needed “punches” anymore. Moreover, unlike Holmes, Trump and his cohorts will not hold back; they will gleefully inflict punishment.

Ali learned — needlessly — a painful lesson, but Biden doesn’t have to go 10 rounds. He can call it a day without suffering through an agonizing battle.

Those who have read some of my scribblings know that I recently still argued, given Biden’s exceptional record, his decency and the lateness of the hour, that Biden should remain in the race. But I am starting to waffle because his post-debate damage control strategy and tactics have been less than reassuring.

For instance, when asked in a much-publicized interview on ABC, if he would agree to a test to measure mental acuity, he refused to answer, dodging the question, and, when asked if he watched a tape of the debate, he said he didn’t think so, before saying he did not. And these are just a couple of examples for my concern post-debate.

One of his passionate supporters said that Biden did “OK” in an interview. However, we need more than “OK” because at stake is not just Biden’s future but democracy itself and world order.

Perhaps it would help Biden reach a decision if he watched the Ali-Holmes fight on YouTube.

Holmes, in post-fight interviews, recognizing Ali’s greatness, wished him many years of happiness. If Biden steps down, many who are grateful for Biden’s decades of service, are prepared to extend the same wishes to Biden.

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available