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OPINION

Muhammad Ali Danced Like A Butterfly, Herschel Walker Bowled Over the Critics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Townhall Media/Chris Queen

I watched the Georgia U.S. Senate debate between Black preacher Raphael Warnock and University of Georgia Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker last month. No one expected much of a performance from Walker against a spell binding Baptist minister. Yet, as the night wore on, it was Walker who made the most salient points in simple forceful language while Rev. Warnock with downcast, lugubrious eyes was strangely subdued. There was no question as to who was the alpha male on that stage.

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There were several times during the debate when Warnock accused Walker of this or that and Walker smiled at the audience, pulled his strong shoulders back and had a look on his face that said, “Is that the best hit you can give me? I’m not only standing, I am now going to run over you.” It was the look of a confident, champion athlete and I had seen that look before.

Some 50 years ago when I was a freshman at the University of Iowa, I and a hometown friend had trudged through a snow storm to the Catholic Student Center one Saturday morning to meet with Muhammad Ali. We had seen a small notice on a poster board for a campus visit after his earlier stop at the University of Iowa in September of 1967 when he regaled thousands of students at the Memorial Union. After shaking off the snow, we joined about ten other students to meet the champ for coffee and donuts. We pulled up a circle of chairs and had a free wheeling talk about his childhood, draft status, Moslem religious beliefs, race, and, of course, his boxing.

To meet Ali was to like him. Even early on a cold Midwestern morning with a small group of white college kids he was in great form. He recited some of his poetry, did the Ali Shuffle.  He even coaxed my friend to stand up and spar with him, pulling every punch, of course. Every time my friend moved his hands, Ali’s gripped them faster than you could see. Ali had faster hands than Sugar Ray Robinson. My friend has lived his life knowing that he “boxed” with Ali.

Ali repeated what he said at the Memorial Union and campuses across the country to raise money for his legal defense against the draft. “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong, none had ever called me the “n” word. I’m not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people simply to continue the domination of white slave-masters over dark people the world over...Why should they ask me to drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple rights?. . .You want me to go somewhere and fight when you won’t stand up for my religious beliefs at home?”

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Years later Muhammad Ali came to my Washington Congressional office for a visit. He was representing the National Parkinson’s Foundation.  His face was a mask, not the lively one I remembered, but he still had a sense of humor. Of course he did not remember me, but did remember his college visits. Back then he could have joined the military and had a cushy job giving boxing exhibitions but he fought the draft on his principles. By the time Ali visited me he was a beloved icon, back in 1967 he was cursed by many. It is easy to forget how much courage it took for him to challenge the draft back then.

And as I watched Herschel Walker take on a glib, black preacher known for rising powerful oratory, I marveled at how much courage it took for this other famous black athlete to even show up. And I admired the courage it takes for him to be for conservative, Republican ideas. Other Black conservatives like Justice Thomas, Senator Tim Scott, Congressman Byron Donalds, Thomas Sowell, and Jason Riley can attest to the slings and arrows of being a black conservative. But this race for the Georgia Senate seat could very well determine the majority in the Senate.

It was bound to be a knock down, dirty brawl with accusations of Uncle Tomism, and much worse. Politics isn’t bean bag and other than a presidential race  this was going to be one of the toughest. As a physician Congressman, I frequently had other doctors ask me for advice on running for office. I first asked them if there was anything in their personal lives they didn’t want their wives to know. Then I asked them if they had ever settled a malpractice suit because if they had, they might be called a butcher on TV. When I first ran for office I got calls from grade and high school friends, college classmates and professional colleagues telling me people were looking for any dirt they could find. I was followed into the ERs in the middle of the night by private investigators. Politics is just that nasty sometimes.

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Herschel Walker knew he would face these kinds of attacks when he decided to run but he thought that it was important to turn this country around. He knew he wasn’t perfect and wrote a book about past mental troubles. But beloved University of Georgia coach, Vince Dooley, said, “I admired Herschel from the beginning. Herschel has always been challenged about doing things that people thought he wasn’t capable of doing. He wants to be the best and he’s driven himself to do that, disciplined himself to do that...he is a real patriot of this country, he loves the United States of America, he is not a politician...knowing him, he will make a great United States senator.”

Three times during the debate I saw on Herschel’s face a look of resolution that I remember seeing on Muhammad Ali’s in talking about his draft status, a look that in words would be, “Throw me your best punch, because I am going to beat you.” Herschel Walker may not win, but I admire his and Ali's grit and ability to take a punch. Like Ali, Herschel Walker is proving that the true measure of a champion is not so much about their ability to deliver a knockout punch, but in their ability to take one. Don’t be surprised if Herschel is still standing when the final bell rings. 

Greg Ganske, MD, is a retired surgeon and served in the U.S. Congress from 1995-2002.

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