Thursday, March 17, 2011

Muhammad Ali Iran Visit Depends on Health and Ability to Travel

While the world stews over the possible catastrophe of popsicles in heat, otherwise known as Japan's nuclear reactors crisis, two adventure-seeking hikers remain in Iranian prisons, fighting for their lives over espionage charges. A third hiker was released on bail and returned to the U.S. last September.

No way to know if they're innocent or not, but my gut instincts say, in all likelihood, these three crazy kids -- a journalist, economist, and teacher -- are not American spies. Idiots, maybe, for thinking they could simply hike across Iran, but not spies. What spy would be dumb enough to ignore warnings and simply hike into hostile territory like Iran?

To the rescue, like the flying butterfly/stinging bee that he is, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali has stepped up to the plate, writing letters to Iranian Grand Pubah, The Ayatollah Khamenei, in a bid to secure the hikers' release. So far, no dice. But that has not deterred Ali. Recently, the champ has been rumbling about a personal visit to the lunatic fringe.

"If we thought that they would be released and if Muhammad's presence would have some impact on that release for the good, then, yes, we would try very hard to make sure Muhammad was able to go," his wife Lonnie Ali said. "But a lot of that, as you know, would depend on Muhammad's health. That's the bottom line."

Muhammad Ali, a sufferer of Parkinson's disease, has barely been seen in the public eye over the past decade and no longer speaks in public. I doubt he is healthy enough to trek halfway around the world on a mission like this. Parkinson's is a very debilitating neuro-muscular condition that robs its victims of the ability to move, speak, and in the end, eat. Who is going to pay for the entourage required to care for Ali as he sets out on such mission? The hikers? Their bereaved families? President Obama?

It's quite noble of Ali to go out on a limb for the cause of naive and idealistic strangers. I applaud his efforts and appeals. But honestly, isn't all this talk about traveling to Iran to plead for their release just talk? A way to garner more publicity, either for the hikers' cause or for a fading icon? Ali is an expert in the art of bluster. Why should this time be any different?

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