Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali's Brain Should Be Donated To Science

Arguably the most famous athlete in the history of Planet Earth has passed away, and the world is in mourning. He became one of the most widely known stars in an age before social media, before the internet, before 24/hr sports networks. There has never been a more charismatic athlete who reached a greater audience without all the tools we have today. Imagine if they had Twitter in the 1970s?

Today you get athletes like Connor MacGregor who can rapidly rise to fame and fortune by feeding the media beast, but Ali was on another level. If we got into that time travelling phone booth and brought a young Muhammad back to 2016, he would be a bigger star than we could ever imagine. That man with that talent, confidence, and charisma in the modern era would regularly break the internet anytime he spoke

For my money the greatest boxing match of all-time is the Thrilla in Manilla. Sure the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman is probably his most famous fight, but if you only watch one boxing match in your life, it should be Ali-Frazier III. Those two men almost beat each other to death. Ali even said after the fight that it was the closest he'd ever been to dying. That was probably where he should have retired at age 33, but he went on to fight 10 more fights.

You have to wonder how much of his poor health later in life was from Parkinson's disease, and how much came from brain damage (lots of people have had Parkinsons without ever being punched in the head). I strongly recommend watching the ESPN documentary Muhammad and Larry. It used old footage from the lead up to the Ali-Holmes fight in 1981, and it is incredibly sad. There is no way any doctor should have medically cleared Ali to fight at age 38. His motor skills were clearly in severe decline. During the Holmes fight he was barely able to defend himself, much less throw quality punches.

In the documentary, one of Ali's former doctors said that everyone who was involved in the fight should have been sent to prison. Perhaps the biggest problem was Ali's belief that he was still in good enough health to fight Larry Holmes. He needed the money. As with what happens to many rich athletes, there are so many people draining money from them that shortly after they stop competing, they go broke. It happens more than you know.

Ali ultimately paid a big price for those last few pay cheques, as he has been severely physically handicapped for the last 30 years. That's not all Parkinsons. It would be great if his religion permitted his brain to be donated to science, because science has learned so much from the brains of dead football and hockey players. I'm going to guess that Ali also had advanced Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The brain damage likely magnified the Parkinsons effects.

So rest in peace Muhammad. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see. Rumble young man rumble! The greatest boxer in the history of boxing.

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