I’d Have Been Nothing Without You !
It’s often been said the relationships and friendships one has can clearly define us as a person. And in some instances it is true. Though for some it hasn’t always been the case. One relationship that I genuinely believe was something built out of mutual respect and in some cases one built out of adoration if nothing else. Well it was the friendship that was cemented between renowned broadcaster Howard Cosell and former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
Though the two on the face of it had nothing in common . Heir’s was a friendship that at times bordered on that of father and son. Whilst there wasn’t often obedience being conveyed by way of their interaction. It has to be said that their friendship was something that played out as a comedic farce that was genuinely entertaining . Though at times it was Cosell who became the butt of Ali’s jokes. And Cosell willingly abetted Ali in the joviality . If nothing else it made for great television and the viewers and fight fans lapped it up for all it was worth. And most certainly the interaction between the two made Ali’s fights all the more pleasurable to watch. The publicity gleaned by way of the hype and that of Cosell wanting to be part of it all was merely nothing more than a way of selling a bout.
The bouts themselves were memorable in more ways than one . If it wasn’t Ali being the consummate showman describing how he would either be knocking out his opponent whilst also mocking them. Then it was also about Cosell , himself. He often interjected himself into the show. If for nothing else other than wanting the public to know that it was he , Howard Cosell. Who was the person being the ring master bringing us the indomitable Muhammad Ali. Cosell was absorbed in his own self importance but he also could be passionate about things he felt were undignified and socially immoral.
And nowhere was this more apparent than when he came to the support of Ali. The boxer’s treatment at the hands of the government after his refusal to enter the military during the Vietnam War saw Cosell openly come out to criticize administration at the time. He fully supported the fighter and in his cause made it known to those who were prepared to listen. Though it had to be said he had his detractors for taking that particular stance. But at the same time one has to admire someone who’s prepared to go against public opinion and forsake friendships along the way.
Though Cosell was known primarily for his broadcast commentary provided for ABC’s Monday Night Football. At its inception in 1970, he would be working alongside Keith Jackson and Don Meredith. Frank Gifford would join the team later in 1971 after the departure of Jackson . Cosell carried out other duties for the network. He wrote several books and his long standing relationship and marriage to his beloved wife Mary Edith Cosell. “Emmy” to those who knew her best and their marriage that stood for over forty five years.
Much has been made as to Cosell’s arrogance . But if anything it was used as a shield to hide his own insecurities. For Ali it was the exact opposite. His persona and bravado merely represented what he was all about. And though many may found it all too annoying and if anything insulting. The fighter bore this out as a way igniting a nation’s conscience as to what was happening around them . It may not have been welcomed but it certainly made many sit up and take note. And it didn’t matter how one might’ve felt about the fighter and his religious beliefs.
We may have our own differing views as to Ali’s actions and his convictions. But it cannot be denied the aftermath of the Vietnam War has merely proved that when you go to war it had better be for the right reasons. And not merely being done to pander to a political viewpoint. The loss of lives precious as they are can’t be replaced. And the memories borne out of the battles of the veterans who took part in it all can never be forgotten. It becomes a lingering reminder of what we once thought to be so pure. Life as we would want it to be but can never regain even with the advent of medical assistance. We can entrust our lives to the military when making the choice to serve our country. But upon one’s return at times it becomes very difficult to understand how it is that these men and women can be so ill served by its own government when it comes to their well being.
For Ali his conviction was borne out of a right that he felt whereby going to war against an enemy who’d done him no apparent harm, would be against his religious beliefs as a Muslim (Sufi Muslim). Unfortunately for many who are Muslims in today’s environment . They’re often characterized as terrorists , enemies of the West and in particular the United States. And with the remnants of 9/11 still there to remind us why it’s understandable to have that belief.
The friendship built between Ali and Cosell would come to an end when Cosell died in 1995 at the age of 77. It has to be said that it left the world somewhat of a sadder place with the loss of Cosell . He was a professional in his chosen field and he was actually beloved by those who knew him best. And despite the perceived arrogance he was a man of conviction . Who felt that injustice in whatever form had to be challenged. Perhaps it came from his training as a lawyer ? It may well have been also so different him had he chosen to stay in that field. But the lure of being able to communicate with the public , first in the broadcast radio format and then television was too much to ignore once he made the leap into that arena.
For Ali now suffering with Parkinson’s disease and in the twilight of his existence. We now see a man whose best days are now behind him. But the memories of what he once had may well be no longer there. But the mere mention of Cosell’s name seems to brighten his face and demeanor. Whatever these two men once had was definitely more than a friendship. Because if anything they both needed each other more than they really could ever understand. It were as if serendipity were at work from the moment the two got together . What they brought to the screen at the height of their notoriety is a reminder of what we all truly value in a friendship.