Former boxing great Muhammad Ali came down to Miami last night to celebrate the reopening of the 5th Street Gym, where he had trained as an up-and-coming boxer back in the early 1960s.
ESPN writer Wright Thompson said hundreds of people crammed into the gym to catch a glimpse of one of the most renowned sports figures in history, who unfortunately, has been stricken with Parkinson’s Disease and is only a fragment of his former self.
For whatever reason, bouncers at the festive event were forbidding people from taking photos, even though the sole purpose of the event was to generate publicity and even though “official” photos were eventually allowed.
“Put your cameras away,” one organizer yelled. “This is no joke!”
“If you have a phone or a camera,” another yelled, “it’s gone.”
A woman aimed a camera and Marilyn and Bernie pointed frantically. A guy took a picture and a bouncer snatched his phone and then physically pushed him toward the door.
“You gotta go,” he said.
The event folks wanted to make sure everyone else got the message.
“There’s the first example,” they crowed.
But after the bouncers proved themselves to be strong-armed thugs, they suddenly allowed people to walk up to Ali for official photos.
But in the moment, people crowded around him for official photos, dozens of people, moving in and out, grinning, putting their arms around him like he was a mascot. He didn’t acknowledge them, or look at the camera. They smiled and posed. He looked down at the book. I wondered what he was thinking, if he felt like a freak show at the carnival. I wondered if he remembered the old building next door, remembered the Beatles coming to visit him there, remembered the promise of those days. He looked sick, and I thought about how much he must love Angelo to fly down here for this.
His lips were pursed. He looked absent and lost, like a wax statue, and I found myself 15 feet away from the most famous man in the world, overcome with sadness. I hoped this was just a bad day, hoped tomorrow would be different. The groups of people came and went for their picture, one woman giving a fist pump and hollering “Yeah!” after the shutter clicked.
Ali just sat there, sunglasses hiding his famous eyes. He flipped the pages, slowly looking at photographs of the man he used to be.
While the 5th Street Gym is a private venue that can dictate whether people can take photos or not, they still do not have the right to confiscate anybody’s cameras.
And they don’t have the right to “physically push” anybody towards the door who has not been physically confrontational. All they can do is ask someone to leave if they did take the photos after being asked not to take them.
And what’s the point of preventing people from photographing one of the most photographed people in modern history anyway?