As a boy, commentator Robert Floyd worshipped Davy Crockett, who fought for what he believed in both in Congress and at The Alamo. Later, Floyd shifted his allegiance to Muhammad Ali, whose recent death is being mourned across the world. Here’s Floyd’s remembrance:
My father believed people need to stand up for their rights. When I weighed in at 12 pounds at birth, he had high hopes I’d become a boxer and began teaching me the fundamentals almost right away. One day, a five-year-old bully hurt my fellow three-year-old friends. When he started to hit me, I swung upwards and connected with a right hook, knocking him down. No more bullying.
Boxing fascinated me from then on. My second week as a B.U. freshman found me in Boston Arena’s Santos Gym three rows from the ring, where a 22-year-old Muhammad Ali was training for his second Liston fight. My Instamatic camera captured one roll of film — all I could afford –of not yet the greatest sparring and interacting with his handlers.
Ali became my life. From that moment on I caught nearly every Ali fight. Before each one, I would buy The Times, The Post, The Daily News and Newsday to soak up every detail of the upcoming event. I became such a connoisseur of his style and strategy that as I watched him fight on closed circuit TV, I’d call out for the audience to hear the combination I believed he needed to defeat his opponents. A round or two later, he came through for me, landing more effective punches.
Despite setbacks, Ali believed with all his heart that he was right, and fought on, even when facing prison and an uncertain future as a boxer. He pushed the topic of racism into our consciousness in a way no other athlete ever had, or has since.
And Ali informed my career as a photojournalist. He taught me that failure is not an option. Ali needed to win every fight to become the champion, and I wouldn’t allow myself any excuses for not successfully capturing story-telling images, or why hire Floyd for an assignment any more? He helped me realize that the camera has power; I shouldn’t be afraid to use it to gain an entree into the hearts of my subjects, some of whom — including governors and supreme court justices — without Ali’s inspiration, would have intimidated me to be mute.
Seeing Ali everywhere in the news this past week reminds me of his transformative influence that over these many years I’d begun to take for granted. I need to speak louder for what my heart is thinking.
You’re only as good as your last fight. Time for me to start training for my next one. Ali, Ali, Ali.
Robert Floyd has a long and varied career as a photojournalist. He lives in Southampton, Mass.