Smoken Joe

I sadly lost a part of my youth today when I heard about the death of Joe Frazier. Having grown up during the civil rights era I have a tremendous respect and appreciation for him as a man and an athlete. Frazier was the son of a sharecropper from segregated South Carolina who through hard work and perseverance became the heavyweight champion of the world. More importantly though, he was a good man who helped hundreds of poor kids in the inner city of Philadelphia to avoid a life of crime by example.  Perhaps unknown to most is the fact that he also helped Muhammad Ali through a dificult time in his life when Ali was in exile from boxing and broke after being stripped of his title for refusing induction into the military. Frazier would visit Ali frequently,quietly giving him money and eventually helping him to get his license to box reinstated after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction for draft evasion. When that happened, Frazier also gave Ali a title shot so the two undefeated champions could fight for the undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World.  This opportunity allowed each of them to earn a $1.5 million purse, the largest ever at that time, for a sporting event which was truely "The Fight of the Century". It was in the face of all of this pure unsolicited kindness that Ali turned on Joe and dispite all he had done for him publically humiliated Frazier.  He called him an Uncle Tom and a gorilla because of of his rural backround, the dark color of his skin and his African features. As much as I also admire Ali for all he accomplished in his lifetime during that tumultuous era in American history, I have never forgiven him for those attacks on a man who, without publicity or fanfare, helped him to survive the worst times, thereby enableing the two of them to create the most memorable part of the legacy that is Ali's career. Frazier was the Hector to Ali's Achilles. I will always remember him as the man who beat the unbeatable and who more than once got off the mat to fight again and distinguish himself by refusing to fail. Last night he passed away, more a part of the legends of boxing than a legend himself but, for me, more of a true hero than seemingly greater men. When I learned of his passing I heard in my memory the voice of Howard Cossel saying for the last time: "Down Goes Frazier!" Yes, down in history.