Former heavyweight champ of the world Joe Frazier has died of liver cancer. I am saddened by the news that he has passed. I have a connection with this great athlete as his arch-enemy was Mohammad Ali, my childhood and present hero. I would never forget the fight known only as “The Thrllia in Manilla.” The ferocity that Frazier deployed against Ali was relentless. It was frightening as a child to see a man with such tenaciousness; Frazier was one of the best boxers that ever lived.
I am a Ali loyalist but I never hated Joe Frazier. He never gave me a reason to hate him. Outside the ring he was a simple loving southern boy. I saw him and Ali dust it up on Wide World of Sport as he seemed to get upset with Ali’s antics. Later, I saw footage of Frazier speaking about the champ’s use of race and calling him a ‘uncle tom’. I agreed with Frazier then and now, Ali should not have use such rhetoric.
Joe Frazier’s was a talented athlete that young Black males could look up to as ‘A Black Man’. In the 70’s Black men like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Ali and Frazier were no nonsense cats. They provided young Black boys in poverty to have souls. They attempted to shade us from the brutal segregation and racism that engulfed society as well as the communities we lived in. They informed us it was ok to be ‘Black’ and be damn proud of it. I realized through these figures my place in society, racial validation for myself and race.
Today’s athletes are often tarnished for being commercial icons while refusing to take sociopolitical stands. I believe this charge is unfounded. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the likes have no responsibility to fight social issues concerning Blacks in America. Their careers are private endeavors and being an advocate for social justice should not be prescribed to these men. It takes heart to threaten your commercial appeal for racial or social causes for the group. These present athletes are not capable of being a Jim Brown, Ali, Jackie Robinson or Joe Frazier. Why you ask? Because their life premise is about individualism as is some citizens of America.
I’ll miss Smokin ‘joe’ Frazier as he was influential to my social development just as much as my father. My dad died when I was fifteen; he was only 35-years-old. Men like Ali, Frazier and Jim Brown were surrogate parents, I idolized their toughness and the ability to speak out about issues like race. They forged my identity and further me alone more than any school teachers or coach I ever had. These men demonstrated a caring persona yet an inner toughness that modern-day Black athletes could never duplicate.
These cats were Black men…they were men like Joe Frazier.