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Ali, Arnie & Trump


I grew up in Latrobe, PA. Since I am 63 years old, I met both Mr. Rogers and Arnie Palmer as a kid. Mr. Rogers was a dear friend of my mother, and they shared music together anytime they could. I think I was at Mr. Rogers’ Ordination Ceremony to become a Presbyterian Minister when I was 5. I was in the presence of Arnie many times, seeing him relaxed and goofing with his high school contemporaries as an adult, including physical give and take with my dad and my uncle, who were both bigger than him, and others. My sister was given a trophy by him three years in a row for winning junior golf events. My other sister was in a picture in Sports Illustrated, sitting on the back of his snowmobile. We all had signed pictures from Mr. Rogers with our names on them.

I did not know a single black person or a single Latino person in Latrobe. In fact, I never had a substantive discussion with a black or Latino person until I worked in a steel mill in Detroit. Roberto Clemente was a hero of mine growing up. When I heard his accented English on TV it was OK with me, since I had no reason to think otherwise. Some people made fun of his language, using phonetics in writing it out. Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Jim Brown were the three guys that were my reference point for being black, plus Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 68 Olympics. What a great set of people to provide a foundation for my understanding of people who were not in my world.

Latrobe was a “mill town”, a town that had a steel mill in town and related places like a foundry, a forge shop, tool machining shops, etc. There was a whistle that went off at 7:30, 3:30 and 11:30 everyday – shift change. It was a town in which honesty was practiced, as when a lie is told in a mill, people can get hurt badly, or die. As I have aged I have learned that not all towns/cities are honest. I have also learned that in sports, honesty usually surfaces, even though there have been some notable exceptions. Ali was honest. Can you imagine someone asking even the young Ali to throw a fight? Palmer was honest. Can you imagine him rolling a ball over when no one was looking? Clemente, Brown and Russell – same is true.

Why should anyone care about what I am writing here? Stay with me, please.

I live in Louisville, KY now. When Ali died I learned what an impact a great figure can have on people. I rode my bicycle to the Cemetery in which Ali was to be interred, only to find out the motorcade was about 2 hours behind schedule. What the heck, I had a bike, I was at the East end of Broadway and Ali’s childhood home was about 3 miles west of where I was and traffic on Broadway had already been blocked. I rode down Broadway, heading west on a mission to see the Great One’s last trip. Little did I know the beauty I would witness. About a mile in, I stopped near a McDonalds and ended up talking to a coat and tie wearing black man of near my age. Turns out he was a Vietnam Vet from Washington, DC. I asked him why he was here in Louisville and he told me that once he learned of Ali’s death it occurred to him that there was no place else he could be on that particular day. He told me those in his hotel all had car plates from other states. As we parted, he suggested I go by the two ladies from Baton Rouge and say hi to them. They were perplexed when I rode over and said hello, but then they smiled and we talked for a while.

At the Federal Courthouse I talked to some officers out front and found out I might be able to intercept the motorcade as it came off the freeway by cutting a little towards the river. I missed it, but I went by Central High School, the traditional black school in town and rode by the original Porter Funeral Home. The location was a physical reminder that the Porter Funeral Home from which the procession started that day, a little east and south of Louisville, would not have existed as a black owned business in Ali’s youth, as it was under other ownership and another name when I first came to Louisville in the early ‘80s. Without people like Ali, “blackness” would not be accepted as far and wide as it was now – in Louisville and elsewhere.

Remember, I am riding on a bike, so there was lots of time to think. I followed my instinct and finally met up with the procession about a block after it passed Ali’s childhood home. I missed the landmark, which was OK with me, but I was in the neighborhood. Literally and emotionally I was in the neighborhood. Here it came. Children threw flowers, people cheered. I didn’t notice that they were a little perplexed when talking to me, but after it all passed and I prepared to ride away, I realized that I was the only white person in the neighborhood. I felt OK though, maybe because I used to play basketball in Detroit when I was the only white guy on the court and in the neighborhood (south side off Jefferson, Memorial Park in River Rouge was one of my favorite haunts).

I went back streets to intercept the procession 4 more times, even riding down Broadway about a half a mile ahead of the procession at one point. The cops and people were cool. No one had to be held back and people were allowed to run up and touch the car, run next to it, etc. No one misbehaved. Ali’s will was still prevalent. Will Smith and Mike Tyson leaned out windows and slapped hands with fans. We headed east and away they went into Cave Hill Cemetery. I have yet to visit the grave, but I will when the time is right.

Last week I happened upon the televised funeral celebration for Arnie held at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe. Unlike Ali, who lived in Berrien Springs, MI in his later years, Arnie never could get clear of Latrobe. Everyone knew him there and accepted him as a normal guy. Ali was always different to the societal types in Louisville, and while they helped him start his climb up the ladder, they were also a reminder that he was not one of them. Arnie grew up on the outer edge of town, and Mr. Rogers’ family was the Patriarch family of the town. The library is the Rogers Library and the public pool is the Rogers McFeely pool.

Arnie was not part of the societal set when growing up. He lived on a nine hole course for which his dad was grounds keeper and pro! But, the fact that he was white, and Presbyterian, and involved with golf, brought him into contact with the societal crowd such that when he rose high his acceptance was total. Arnie made golf a game for the common man, breaking a barrier just as Ali did, but one that was not as obvious. In my youth, all most all golf was at country clubs, with dress codes, high membership cost and a sense of aloofness that was hard to deny. Now you can golf in a sleeveless shirt on a public course. Good or bad, it is changed.

Arnie, Mr. Rogers, Ali, Clemente, Brown and Russell were all honest. In sports, you cannot be one of the best unless you are honest, especially a team sport. Golf is a sport that has always relied upon self-enforcement of the rules, as a point of pride even among those who play. I was lucky to be greatly influenced by the example they set through their actions.

Here is why I wrote this (finally): Any one of those guys would not give Donald Trump the time of day after seeing the video depicting how he felt stardom gave him the right to do anything he wanted with women. I don’t care if Trump maintains it was just locker room talk. Arnie has straightened out bigger men than Trump for lesser breaches of etiquette and behavior, and even in a “locker room”, especially the Latrobe Country Club locker room, he would not have put up with Trump’s behavior or language. Can you imagine how Ali would address Trump? Clemente, I like to think, would have ignored the man once aware of his stances on various issues and especially with awareness of the locker room banter.  Brown and Russell, well they are still here so let’s see. Any reasonably adjusted man should reject Trump’s presence. The vignette shows how low his character really is and in the end, as depicted by the good byes to Ali and Arnie, character, honesty and integrity outweigh fame and money. Character is what endeared Ali and Arnie to EVERYONE. Arnie probably never knew any black people well, but he would never slight one either. (He knew Trevino so I can’t make the same statement on the Latino front, and both of them would likely get a laugh out of that observation, which is why I articulated it.) What say you Mr. Trevino?

I realize this may be for naught, but I had to get it off my mind. Trump just has no character and no honesty or integrity in what he has espoused. The guys listed above taught me better and it is my hope that America can see the worth of doing better than what Trump espouses – on so many levels. If Trump had grown up in Latrobe, he was the kind of guy who would be ignored, reduced to hanging out on the fringe and looking for a ride home. Mr. Rogers would have had time for him, but I am pretty sure that even his patience would have worn thin.

Trump will get even uglier as the election gets close. He embraces ugly as he knows that it wears down those who don’t like to swim in that pool, just like filing bankruptcy wears down people who want to compete honestly. It is time for all people of character to turn their back to Trump and relegate him to the fringe at which he belongs.

  1. Dolf permalink

    Haz, good thoughts but unfortunately that is not what the common man is looking at trump for in the future. He is tired of the Washington grid lock and political bs. Trump gets away with saying the stupid because we all have done it (except frosty). They are tired of the PC requirements of washington. Not saying it is correct or right. Just saying.

  2. Ah, but Dolf, the common man is not who I can ever reach with reason.
    Trump is full of BS all the time. He will not, cannot, do all that he promotes, simple because much of what he says conflicts with other statements he makes in front of other audiences. He has no substance to what he does at all.
    Here is the problem with the “because we all do it”. First, not everyone does. Second, those that do are NOT RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT.
    Watch as he goes crazier from here on in. Claiming that voting could be rigged in PA? Really?
    He is erratic as can be and more and more will jump from his bus as it heads to the cliff. The question is whether America can survive the actual crash that he will be involved with.
    Whatever the common man is looking for from Trump Card in the future will not come to fruition at all, as it is just like other promises Trump has made in the past – He is a TV show and nothing more.

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