For sports fans in the second half of the 20th century, no figure commanded the world stage quite like Muhammad Ali. The sporting world’s dominant figure in the post-Jackie Robinson era, Ali was The Greatest. Sports fan or not, it was equally as impossible to ignore the influence of Howard Cosell on the world of media from the 1960s onward. Once upon a time, the New York Herald-Tribune’s Stanley Woodward had christened his sports pages “the toy department.” But together, Ali and Cosell changed how the world saw sport. Indeed, together, they changed the world.
Dave Kindred, the author of Sound and Fury, grew up writing about both Ali and Cosell. Clichéd it is, but only Dave Kindred could have written this book. Kindred shared a Louisville background with young Cassius Clay. Kindred covered Ali as a Golden Gloves champion. From their first face-to-face meeting in 1966 forward, Kindred developed a warm working relationship with the young man who would soon become the most famous individual in the world. In meeting Dave Kindred in 1977, Cosell found a respected print journalist who not only respected his work, but enjoyed his company.
Sound & Fury takes us to the very start, a schoolboy Cassius Clay and a just-home-from-the-war attorney named Howard Cohen. Based on dozens of interviews, thousands of hours of personal interaction, and voluminous research, Kindred writes of more than how Ali and Cosell created the bombastic duo who would revolutionize sport, media, and society. With his perfectly crafted prose, Kindred tells the story of America from the 1950s forward. It is not possible to critically analyze the Ali-Cosell relationship without touching on Viet Nam and the ‘War at Home’, racism and anti-Semitism, television’s rise to dominance, and how sport became a dominant theme in the world.
I am, unashamedly, a huge fan of Dave Kindred’s work:
“We had no choice, really, except to listen to Ali and Cosell. Across much of the last half of the twentieth century, they were major players in American sports. Had they been practitioners of traditional humility, their extraordinary talents would have demanded that attention be paid. But there was nothing traditional about Ali and Cosell. A thimble would have contained their humility with room left over for an elephant. Ali’s shortest poem served as the foundation for most of his wakeful thinking. It went…“Me, Wheee!”
Cosell was an attorney and thus inoculated against such brevity. He once wrote, “Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, persecuting, distasteful, verbose, a show-off. I have been called all of these things. Of course, I am.”
Before Ali, sports was a slow dance. After, it was rock ‘n’ roll. A child of the 50s, Ali grew up with the Temptations, Elvis, and Fats Domino. “You know who started me saying ‘I am the Greatest?’ Little Richard did.” Ali was fifteen years old when he staked out Lloyd Price at Louisville’s Top Hat Lounge to tell the singer he would be the heavyweight champion someday, and Please, Mr. Price, tell me how to make out with girls. When Ali beat Sonny Liston the first time, the singer Sam Cooke sat at ringside, along with two more of the fighter’s heroes, Malcolm X and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Before Cosell, sports on TV was a reverential production. After, it was a circus. He brought to his work a fan’s passion, an entertainer’s shtick, and (this was new) a journalist’s integrity. He had no interest in creating an image of men as heroes simply because they could play a kid’s game. Instead, he submitted sports to the examinations Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite did of the day’s news. Thirty-eight years old when he gave up the law for broadcasting, he had not yet met Ali. He was a decade and more away from Monday Night Football. But he announced this: He would get famous.”
Read this book. You will get a history lesson, a sociology lesson, a psychology lesson, a pop culture lesson, and a sporting lesson. Best of all, you will love every moment of it.
A don’t miss it- 3 nods.
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