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February 25, 2014

Wednesday p.m.: The night Ali was born, 50 years ago later; plus the N-word, Marlins' projected win total, Team USA verdict, Hiassen/Pitts & more

1) It is WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Team USA Olympic poll, Dale Jr., LeBron's nose & more. 2) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote and also on Instagram, Vine and Facebook.

IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO: CLAY BEATS LISTON IN MIAMI BEACH, AND MUHAMMAD ALI IS BORN: I spoke with Ferdie Pacheco, "The Fight Doctor," for yesterday's column on the golden anniversary 1aa1aclayliston1of a watershed event in American sports history, and arguably the biggest one we have hosted in greater Miami. Click on Ali Is Born for that column. Ferdie and I did not speak at length. He was tired. He 's 86 now, and he'd just done four hours with CBS Sports cameras in his Miami home for a 1aa1aclaylistonspecial. Being the last, best living link to those Clay-turning-Ali days makes Pacheco a treasure, living history. Ali himself, of course, is a shell in the terrible embrace of Parkinson's. It's as if Pacheco is his voice now, too. I was too young to know of that Feb. 25, 1964 fight, let alone to have attended, but the buzz about it helped kindle in me a fascination with boxing; more accurately, with Ali, the Greatest Of All Time. He was the first athlete of my generation, at the least the first on my radar, who transcended sports, and who brought politics, religion and outlandish (wonderful) braggadocio to our games. He was like nothing before, and there has been none like him since. It is fitting that the History Miami museum has an art and photo exhibit marking that event 50 years ago, and hosted a panel discussion last night. And it is fitting that The Fight Doctor was on that panel, the painter's brush strokes giving color to memories in black and white.

MARLINS' PROJECTED WIN TOTAL: It's 69.5 on the betting over/under, says Bovada. Good news: That's better than last season's 62 wins. Bad news: That's still tied for next to last in all of MLB, and last in the NL East, after Nationals 88.5, Braves 87.5, Phillies 76.5 and mets 73.5. Overall leader is Dodgers at 92.5.

Poll result: Mixed verdict on Team USA performance in Sochi: We asked in the previous blogpost and you all gave Team USA what amounts to silver or bronze at best. Most, 32.5 percent, rated the overall performance "good," 29.2% "fair" and 26.6% "disappointing." It was "a failure" to 6.5% and "excellent" to only 5.2%.

ON THE USE OF THE "N-WORD": First, yeah, I'm about as white as can be and yet here I am opining on the n-word. So what? No apologies. If I can speak up for gay rights even though I'm not gay, why can't I have an opinion on others using the n-word? I have not been hurt to have been called it in anger, 1aa1anwordderision or hatred like many older African-Americans (and some younger) may have, but I still am jarred by the sound of the word, no matter it's present-day connotation. I address its use not from a vantage of Civil Rights, but of civility, and Black History Month provides a natural vessel for discussion. I hear black friends and black athletes (though not all) defend using the word among themselves, but with an "-a" not an "-er" on the end. Rappers feel the same justification. Even some whites do, as if using the word includes them in some private club. That was an element of the Incognito/Martin dynamic in the Dolphins' Bullygate saga. I'm not audacious enough to tell anybody how they should speak among themselves, or in their art form, but I can suggest the continued use of the n-word, even ending in "a," feels self-defeating to me. It is clearly generational, as we saw in the recent ESPN Outside The Lines special on the word. It is significant to note most older blacks who actually were victims of segregation and racism abhor the word in all its forms. This, to me, is reason enough to erase the word in all its forms from our lexicon. That includes rap lyrics and collegial locker-room banter. It is a matter of respect, not so much respect for one's self as respect for generations past that suffered greatly, sometimes paying with their lives, when the n-word represented discrimination in its most violent, hateful form. I don't agree with the NFL considering making a penalty of the word, but only because not saying it should not require rules or legislation. Not saying it should spring from the conscience.

IN APPRECIATION OF HIASSEN, PITTS: Columnists Carl Hiaasen and Leonard Pitts Jr. make me proud of the Miami Herald, and honored to be a colleague over here on the sporting wing. The thought occured Sunday as I read the latest from each: Hiassen on the latitude and lunacy of Florida's Stand Your Ground gun law, and Pitts on gay rights and stubborn wrongs. Excellence. From them it almost always is.

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