“Joe Frazier was the son of sharecroppers in South Carolina, closer in his roots to slavery than Ali, darker of skin when that still mattered a great deal more in his country, less advantaged than Ali in all ways, most especially physically. All he had was his will, and courage, the willingness to pay an awful price to maximize the one ticket he had been given to get out of property.


The truth was that Joe Frazier was never a Tom, and he was not a white man’s fighter, nor in any way was he political. When Ali was barred from fighting by the U.S. District, Frazier had spoken up for him and his right to fight. Frazier’s only politics were his fists. Fighting was his only ticket out of the cruelest kind of poverty.” David Halberstam.

Muhammad Ali called Frazier an Uncle Tom. He said he was too ugly to be a champion. And he called him a gorilla.

Still, Ali lit the Olympic Torch in Atlanta. Ali is one of the most beloved sports figures in the world. People adore Muhammed Ali. They never loved Joe Frazier.

People respect workers. People love poets.

Ali was all style: a black poet with radical views in radical times. He was one of the faces of the rebellion, a symbol of the black future and not of the past. You either loved Ali or you hated him. There was not much space in between. Over time, the haters disappeared and our relationship with him turned into a love fest.

There was nothing to hate about Joe Frazier. He was a hard worker, a good boxer, a man of few words. And that was his problem. He was just one of many boxing stories we know too well: Born in poverty, boxing his way out of it.

Frazier could never escape the Ali narrative.

Just like the Zune never escaped the iPod narrative.

Just like Detroit cars (until now) weren’t able to escape the Honda/Toyota reliability narrative.

Just like the Mets will never escape the Yankees narrative.

It’s tragic. It’s sad. It is what it is.

Joe Frazier lived a very dignified life under the burden of his narrative. Now, the only thing remaining is the Ali narrative. We have to write his narrative ourselves because the poet of the past no longer speaks.