By Adrian Zupp
I don’t always remember birthdays. But from the time I was 11 I’ve remembered March 8, 1971. That’s the date of the “Fight of the Century,” when Muhammad Ali, just two fights returned from government-imposed exile, fought Joe Frazier to try and grab back his heavyweight championship belt.
With his passing on Friday night, it seems everybody has a favorite Ali quote or memory. But let’s be as brutal in our honesty as he was: The great man wasn’t always so popular. In fact, he created some very big waves in American society. Back in the 60s, a lot of people weren’t too keen on a black fighter with a big mouth. A “draft dodger.” And, save us all, a Muslim! Time has passed and Ali is now internationally celebrated, even if, truth be told, many remain averse to the ideas he espoused.
But as much as he loved to be loved, Ali was not in this world to win a popularity contest. He had bigger ideals.
Retrospect can be like Photoshop, making images much more palatable for us. But let’s leave the warts as they are for now and say straight out: Muhammad Ali stood up for what Muhammad Ali believed, and if you didn’t like it, you could choke on it.
For all the talk about the lessons “The Greatest” taught us – both through his conquests in the ring, and his even-more-considerable battles outside it – I believe having the courage of one’s convictions is paramount among them.
It is our inherent duty, as members of the mass communication industry, to not simply portray ourselves as ethical — individually or collectively — but to conduct ourselves ethically. Whether you realize it or not, that’s the social contract we all signed when we got into this sphere of work. If radio really is as important to our communities as we advertise, we owe it to those communities to never let gimmickry or greed trump the responsibility we share by blessed inheritance.
It is this ethical core, this line of trust to our communities, that can keep radio relevant, and beloved, far into the future. Most all else are just passing fancies. What we’re talking about here is the bedrock.
Politicians and similar types are now jumping on the Ali bandwagon for all they’re worth. But there weren’t too many of them around in 1967 when Ali refused to go to Vietnam to fight a “white man’s war.” He was vilified, even hated, by many in America at that time. But it isn’t the gravy days that define a person. It’s how steady s/he holds course when doing what is right isn’t what is popular. In our role as trustees of information, we should hold ourselves to equally high ideals.
Anything else is less than honest. Less than Ali.
Adrian Zupp is an editor with Radio Ink and a former sports feature writer.