Letter: Pugilism and the publicity game

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The Independent Online
Sir: In his column (22 April), Ken Jones mixed his own memories of Muhammad Ali with a critique of 'Welcome to the Sewer', the first of a six-hour documentary series called Naked Sport which I and my colleagues made for Channel Four. Mr Jones alleges that by showing Muhammad Ali attending a press conference at Madison Square Garden, where he meets Shannon Briggs, a hopeful heavyweight contender, the documentary was 'exploiting' Ali's deteriorating mental condition for dramatic effect. Mr Jones goes on to anticipate that the programme makers 'may refute this, pleading accuracy in mitigation, but what other conclusion could be drawn . . .?' Mr Jones' question is a curious one since he provides part of the answer when he alludes to the way in which Briggs' manager, Mike Marley, uses his fighter's fleeting encounter with Ali for some shameless self-promotion. As Naked Sport makes clear, Marley was careful to have a photographer on hand to record the moment when Briggs and Ali meet. But the sequence with Ali shows us more than just the way in which managers like Marley play the publicity game. Ali today is a tragic figure, not only because his mental deterioration is a sad testament to the perils of boxing, but also because his willing presence at yet another press conference shows how the media circus which boxing has become, exerts such a hypnotic allure for fighters and spectators. Mr Jones asks why Naked Sport can't leave Ali alone and let him get on with his life? The question should be why can't Ali turn his back on the carnival vulgarity he once exploited so adeptly and which now exposes the horrific price he has paid to be the greatest?

Yours sincerely,

NICOLAS KENT

Producer, Naked Sport

Oxford Television Company

26 April

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