Joe Frazier and the Power of Words

8 Nov

Joe Frazier, former World Heavyweight Champion, died yesterday from liver cancer at the age of 67.  Frazier was an Olympic champion in 1964, but is best known for his three fights with Muhammad Ali.  In 1971, Frazier beat Ali in what was called the “Fight of the Century.”  Ali won their second fight and then, in 1975, they met a final time in the Philippines in what came to be known as the “Thrilla in Manilla.”

In hearing all the words about Frazier in the last twenty four hours, the one thing that fascinated me was his deep seated animosity toward Muhammad Ali.  This hatred stemmed not from the punishment he took from Ali in the ring, but from the verbal assaults he had to endure from Ali throughout his career.  Frazier hated Ali so much that when Ali lit the torch in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a reported said that Frazier, on seeing the Parkinson’s afflicted Ali with torch near the flaming cauldron, said, “They should throw him into the fire.”

I understand that in the end, Frazier forgave Ali, and this is good.  But for decades he carried a grudge, all over words.  In their first fight, Ali had called him an Uncle Tom.  In their third fight, Ali called him a gorilla.  This verbal taunting went on and on from the one who was also known by the nickname, “the Louisville Lip.”  These words hurt Frazier deeply, mostly because Frazier deeply respected Ali for his stance on civil rights and other important issues.

It was just another illustration to me of the power of words.  Here’s a guy who traded punches with a man for 15 rounds and was not offended in the least, but when words were used instead of fists, a lifelong bitterness began to grow in Joe Frazier’s heart.  We need to remember that and so measure our words carefully, and speak thoughtfully.  Words can hurt worse than fists sometimes.  I know Joe Frazier would agree.



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