I like Bill Simmons. I read his stuff whenever it shows up on ESPN.com, bought his Book of Basketball, etc. I’m not one of the haters. But even I have to say that Bill is out of his mind right now. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, let me fill you in. Bill was on a chat, and actually said the Tiger Wood’s inevitable comeback to golf will be the biggest test any athlete ever faced. And then came the game winner: he said that Muhammad Ali coming back from exile, triggered by refusing to be drafted to go fight in Vietnam, was the only one who came close. But wait, there’s more! When subsequent chat posters took him to task, he stuck by his guns and asserted that by 1970 American sentiment had turned against the war and that all of America under the age of 35 was in his corner. Uhh…..right.
Well, that wasn’t enough. He has a full length column up on ESPN.com now, and it’s a doozy. Instead of saying ‘OK, I got carried away’, he doubled down on the crazy. You really need to read it yourself to get the full effect, but I’ll sum it up. He says that:
1. He’s right, and
2. His mistake was saying all that in a chat, where everything is rapid fire and you don’t have the time or space to really explain yourself, and not in a full length column.
And then he goes into a full blown explanation of why he’s right and everyone else is wrong. In his mind Tiger is coming back at 34 years old, which is where the decline starts setting in for most golfers, and against a 24/7 media headwind unlike anything that’s ever existed. And that we don’t know yet if Tiger is the same heartless, ruthless, career first-family bastard that Ali and MJ were, so we don’t know if he’ll have the mental capacity to shut all of the background noised off and focus on golf and golf alone. Now those are all valid points, but that still doesn’t make what he’s trying to do harder than what Ali had to go through.
Now I’m no Ali sycophant, but I recognize that the man went through some real drama that is beyond comprehension today. And I don’t think that being hounded by TMZ because you decided to run through several mistresses measures up to being hated, to the point where otherwise sane people would have gladly taken you or your family out. And yes, the anti-war crowd came to love Ali as did the “Black elite”. But that was nowhere near a majority of the country, and don’t forget that many Black veterans probably weren’t big on him, either. Who wants Tiger Woods dead? Who thinks he’s a disgrace to his country, or that he’s guilty of treason? Who is trying to put him in jail right now? Or end his career? You can go into VFW halls today and get dirty looks if you mention the name ‘Muhammad Ali’; do you think that you’ll get dirty looks if you mention Tiger Woods at a country club in 2050?
It’s one thing to be a punchline and the object of surveillance for a bunch of tabloids. It’s a whole other thing to be accused of treason, stripped of your title and you boxing license, and sentenced to prison, and then try to regain all of those things after four years of exile. And yes, Ali had a few backers in the media like Howard Cosell, but there were just as many professional detractors eager to let everyone know what they felt about the deserter. Woods has detractors, to be sure, but they’re rank amateurs compared to what was out there back then. The press was trusted a lot more than they are now. If the columnists at the Washington Post or LA Times said a guy was a bum, more people were inclined to believe it. Nowadays, we read columns for entertain value. 10,000 bloggers may have their keyboards locked and loaded ready to opine on Tiger’s alleged conquests, but that’s not the same as having the entire weight of the federal government on you.
Simmons final point that needs to be taken apart is that Ali’s exile was hell, but his comeback wasn’t so bad. The anti-war movement and ‘all of Black America’ was behind him, after all. Forget the facts that Ali was broke at the time, and was soundly beaten by Joe Frazier soon after coming back. You know what, forget all of this. Bill Simmons, who I normally like to read, was drinking the crazy juice this time around. No need to go any further.