Lessons from the life of Joe Frazier for Europe's leaders


Joe Frazier, an old warrior, at his gym in Philadelphia in 2009

When Giants Ruled the World:

The death of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier features more prominently in European papers than you might have imagined.  There is video of the great fighter at Die Welt.  The Guardian's Kevin Mitchell has an assessment of Frazier and his til death do us part rivalry with Muhammad Ali.

France's Liberation has a comments string including this one from "astrolabe, "I had the chance to see (the first Frazier-Ali fight) on closed circuit TV in 1971.  It was the boxing match of the century, you can't say more than that.  Young people today cannot comprehend how important it was."

I second that emotion.  I too saw that first fight on closed circuit TV in Oxford England. Having spent my growing up years in Philadelphia, Smokin Joe was my homeboy.  I knew all the reasons why Ali was the greater fighter.  I understood that Ali had done something very few sportsmen do - transcend his sport and become a world-historical figure. (Icon is the current term of art).  To root against Ali was to root in favor of the Vietnam War and segregation, and all kinds of other stuff I was against.

But you've got to pull for your homey and besides Ali was physically perfect, with a body by Michelangelo and foot movement like Fred Astaire.  Joe Frazier was in some ways very ordinary.   He was my height - under six feet - and he was waistless and graceless in motion - like me and most men.   But he had something that no other boxer of his era had - a heart and a will as great as Ali's.  He also had a left hook like to kill a man.  How Ali got up from the knock-out shot that ended the 1971,I will never know.

It is a sure sign that you are getting older when the past seems to be so much better than the present.  But really - in the matter of sport and its intersection with society it really was better then.

Actually, in a lot of ways the world was better then.

When Pygmies Rule the World:

Silvio Berlusconi is clinging to power as he faces the one-millionth crunch vote on his government's plans,  this time on a financial plan for reducing Italy's debt.  Then there is rumor of a no-confidence vote on Thursday.  Anyone with a sense of decency and honor would have resigned a long time ago.  But not Berlusconi.

Reports from Greece say that the reason there is still no "unity" government in place is that the putative new Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos, wants an open-ended mandate to govern. The right-wing New Democracy party is insisting the "unity" government hold elections in February.

Is it any wonder that Greece's euro zone partners are losing patience with the nation's politicians?

Decency, honor and courage are things Joe Frazier had in abundance to go along with his fierce competitiveness.  If Europe's leaders today had a fraction of what Frazier had, then the continent would not be in the trouble it is in.  But heroic qualities seem totally absent in Europe in these pygmy times.