From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Patterson vs. Ali: Lord in the ring

Floyd Patterson (1962)
The famous 1965 fight between Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali seemed just as much about religion as it did about boxing.

Patterson was a known Roman Catholic.  In those days of Camelot, he had many of the worldly powers that be on his side.   For a while there (until Patterson lost to Liston), even President Kennedy proudly displayed an autographed photo of Patterson.  Frank Sinatra was another such fair-weather friend.  He very publicly supported Patterson until Ali won this 1965 fight.  After that, Sinatra (literally) turned his back on Patterson.

This fueled Ali’s beliefs all the more.  He was at that time staunchly associated with the Nation of Islam, a group that was then known for its adamant opposition to all things white (including traditional “white” religion).  He considered “Mr. American-Dream Patterson” to be an “Uncle Tom” who kowtowed to the white man in order to achieve success.  He would continuously refer to Patterson as a scared rabbit, and would bring him insulting batches of lettuce and carrots to drive the knife a little deeper.

For his part, Patterson was having none of what Ali was espousing.  He considered the Nation of Islam teachings of that time to be hate-based, and did not honor their religious aspects.  Patterson therefore insisted upon calling Ali by his birth name, Cassius Clay.  He was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying this about Ali:  I have been told Clay has every right to follow any religion he chooses, and I agree.  By the same token…   I am a Roman Catholic.  I do not believe God put us here to hate one another…

Both men continued their soul-searching journeys long after their pivotal clash in the ring.  Patterson’s
reputation for being a kind and charitable gentleman grew and grew.  Ali embraced a more universal
interpretation of Islam.  The two even made their peace with one another.  Although Patterson never
did stop his use of the name “Cassius Clay,” Ali eventually accepted this – but only from him.


Copyright January 4, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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