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Muhammad Ali was a hero but Tiger Woods is pants

By Des Kelly
Last updated at 7:47 AM on 22nd March 2010

1966 photo of Muhammad Ali

Icon: Muhammad Ali photographed in 1966

According to the hype, Tiger Woods’ impending comeback is worthy of comparison to Ali’s spectacular return to the ring 40 years ago.

Should anyone voice that ridiculous opinion within earshot, feel free to drag them from their car and beat them lightly about the head with a golf club until they come to their senses. Any court of law will agree you were provoked.

Let us examine the evidence. On the one hand we have Ali, a cultural icon, a sportsman who politicised his status as world heavyweight champion, aligned himself with the black power movement and challenged America’s attitude to non-whites and the existing social order.

An individual who refused to be drafted to the Vietnam War on principle and argued his conversion to Islam had made him a conscientious objector.

‘I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong,’ he once declared. ‘They never called me n****r.

But Ali didn’t hide. He turned up for the Army induction ceremony and stubbornly declined to budge when his name was called out on three separate occasions.

For this, he was convicted, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000, stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from fighting in the USA.

‘Overnight he became a n****r again,’ said one promoter.

While appealing against the verdict, he travelled through America, delivering anti-War speeches at college campuses and protest rallies until 1971, when his sentence was finally overturned in the Supreme Court.

But a year earlier, as this controversy was still raging, Ali was given a license to box in Georgia by a sympathetic senator.

Swathes of the American public despised his rough, radical politics and desperately wanted him to lose against his white opponent Jerry Quarry.

The probability of this happening was high after three years exile from the ring, but Ali stopped Quarry on cuts in front of the world that night and took a giant step back towards rehabilitation in his own land.

So, to recap the situation regarding two sportsmen making a return: On the one hand, we had Ali, an individual prepared to throw his life away for something he believed in despite enormous political pressure in a time of conflict and upheaval.

Muhammad Ali v Jerry Quarry in December 1970 in GeorgiaComeback kid: Muhammad Ali (right) stopped Jerry Quarry on cuts during his comeback bout in Georgia, December 1970

On the other, we have a golfer who lost some of his sponsors because he couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants. There is no comparison.

Woods is returning from his self-imposed exile, not a government ban, because the US Masters in Augusta provides the most exclusive, benign and cosseted environment imaginable in sport.

He will not be heckled or jeered. Augusta’s ferociously strict membership policy will see to that. For goodness sake, this is a place where even the birds need a permit to chirp in the azaleas.

We’re told he will need ‘courage’ out there. Some fear the psychological test could be too much. What tosh. It’s as hermetically sealed and controlled an environment as the creepiest Woods confessional press conference.

Tiger WoodsPublic: Woods ended a self-imposed exile with a press conference (above). He is unlikely to be heckled when he returns to the tour at Augusta (below)
Tiger Woods at the 12th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club

This is the one Major that allows him to do what he does best, concentrate solely on himself, play his game, block out the world and talk about very little except the state of greens afterwards.

That’s no bad thing. I don’t want to hear any more about his private life. I don’t want to read lurid texts sold to newspapers by the bimbos and porn stars he was dumb enough to mess with. I will, however, quite happily watch him play golf again because he has long been the best.

But whatever happens, he’s no hero. And he’s definitely no Ali.

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