Dave Davies, guest-host of NPR’s Fresh Air, introduced his guest and subject this way:
Muhammad Ali may be the most famous American athlete ever. His life is the subject of books, documentaries and feature films. But our guest, writer Jonathan Eig, says he was surprised to discover no one had ever done a complete, unauthorized biography. Eig spent four years researching Ali’s life, speaking with his three surviving wives, his managers and hundreds of others.
The author, Jonathan Eig, tried to build credibility for his work thus describing it:
Based on more than 500 interviews with almost all of Ali’s surviving associates, and enhanced by the author’s discovery of thousands of pages of FBI records and newly uncovered Ali interviews from the 1960s, this is the stunning portrait of a man who became a legend.
The conclusion of this “meticulous” research, according to Mr. Eig, reveals that Muhammad Ali was “a flawed rebel who loved attention.”
Here are some basic facts that readers (and listeners) ought to remember. First, Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd 2016–just two ago. Second, the book “Ali: A Life” was published October 3, 2017. Third, the author claims that he spend four years researching his subject matter, Ali. This means that work on the book must have concluded sometime late 2016 or early 2017 to allow for the technical review and production of the manuscript. That would suggest that Mr. Eig was doing his research about Muhammad Ali when Ali was alive. But Ali’s perspectives are absent in this work because the author did not sit down with the subject of his book. The book is filled instead with psychoanalytical statements, hyperboles, assumptions, and baseless interpretations intended to smear a figure towering above even those who hated him. Mr. Eig could not have sat face to face with Ali because Mr. Eig is a coward who would like to profit from telling a fake life story about a giant with the courage and sacrifices that no one can dispute–after his death.
Neither Ali nor those who loved Ali claimed that Ali was a saint. To write a book telling the readers just that is most telling about the character of the author and to some extent, NPR staff who gave such an opportunist fame seeker space to delegitimatize a symbol of Black Americans’ struggle for dignity and personhood.
Revisionist history is common. This work gives revisionist historians a bad name. It is especially common for members of the elite to destroy the image of leaders of marginalized racial groups. This work do so without shame and with total lack of sensitivity to the family of the deceased.
Building negative narratives about Black Muslim Americans is swift. It is also callous. This hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali, taking place when the dirt of the earth in which Ali’s body is buried is still fresh and when most of the people who loved Ali are still mourning, is offensive and bigoted. This is just another building block in the long history of white elite Americans telling Black Americans who their real leaders ought to be and why the leaders that Black Americans chose are flawed.