Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Gold

With the opening of the Olympics tonight in London, some might wonder if Flannery O'Connor had any interest in sports or competed in athletics.  Other than riding horses at her uncle Bernard's farm when she was a child, there is no evidence to suggest that Flannery ever participated in sports.  Indeed, the onset of lupus in 1950 ruled out her taking part in athletics altogether. While she may have been physically unable to engage in sports, she was a sports fan.  Her favorite sport was boxing and the boxer she most admired was Cassius Clay, who won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.  Given the cultural climate in middle Georgia at the time, declaring one's allegiance for the brash young boxer from Louisville was scandalous to say the least.  Nevertheless, O'Connor had deep admiration for Clay whose public statements could be as controversial as some of the things Flannery herself said in print.  She admired Clay not only for his athletic prowess, but also that he had deeply held convictions that he was willing to stand up for, even if O'Connor did not always share his views.  Two years after Flannery died, Clay denounced the war in Vietnam and refused to submit to the draft because he believed US involvement in southeast Asia was unjust.  His religious convictions were equally as strong.  When Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he created quite a stir that even took Flannery by surprise.  In a politically incorrect letter to her friend Maryat Lee on May 21, 1964 she demurred "...Cassius is too good for the Moslems." (The Habit of Being, p. 580).
- Mark

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