Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, Ali was one of the most influential athletes of the 20th century. The 1960 Olympic gold medalist and 1964 heavyweight boxing champion was also known for civil rights activism and philanthropy. Ali was 74 years old when he passed Friday night.
Derrick Jackson (@GlobeJackson) of the Boston Globe wrote about Ali’s historic impact for ESPN’s The Undefeated. “Ali was the most successful at parlaying the power of his fists into a demand for human dignity. His story must never be the current version that has been anesthetized by the passing of time, his crippling Parkinson’s disease and America’s advance to its first black president. He must not be buried as such a cuddly, harmless teddy bear that the three top remaining candidates for president can claim him with a straight face.”
From Jackson’s perspective during the interview, Ali brought independent black manhood to that the world had never seen before. Ali exuded “black is beautiful.” He was one of the first athletes that people had to deal with on his own terms, both on a domestic level and a geo-political level.
Today, Ali is loved by all people. However, over 40 years ago, that was not the case. The New York Times refused to acknowledge Ali’s Muslim name for five years by referring to him as Cassius Clay. Ali fought for not only his place as an athlete, but used his fame so that others can be involved in civil rights activism.
In 1967, Ali was drafted in the military during the Vietnam War. He claimed the conscientious objector status on the grounds of his ministry in Islam. Jonathan Shapiro a Boston civil rights attorney represented Ali when his went before the Supreme Court. “Ali was persecuted, at that time, by the government,” Shapiro said. “He [Ali] was a threat to white people because he stood up for black people. He was a threat to the government because he opposed the war.” Shapiro also mentioned that Ali was not afraid of what the repercussions of actions were. Everything that was a concern rolled off of his back. The way he treated the press was the same way he treated his case. He had no fear in fighting for his beliefs.
George Foreman III (@George_Foreman3) is the son of one of Ali’s greatest foes in the ring, George Foreman. Growing up Foreman III heard stories of his father’s relationship with Ali inside and outside of the ring. On commenting on the fight in Zaire that brought Formean ( the father) into a depression, Foreman III said, “My dad realized that it’s all in gamesmanship. Ali was the ultimate gamer. He wanted to show you that he wanted it badder than you, and he was never going to be discouraged. And when you can look at it in that light, as an adult when you mature, you can kind of let go.” Foreman (the father) grew up watching Ali as a young boxer. He practiced Ali’s moves in sparring, and emulated Ali up until he had to fight him.
Foreman III remembers that all of celebrities that were around Ali were no longer celebrities, they became fans. Ali was known for his larger-than-life personality. Foreman III traveled throughout the world and he knew that the name, Muhammad Ali was part of the international language.
Shaprio added that when Ali would stop by the law office, everyone had an excuse to enter the reception area.
Jackson finds that Ali’s showed that black athletes have power. For Foreman III, Ali exemplifies that anyone can do anything, and that no matter what happens, Ali will always be more famous than you.
Muhammed Ali wasn’t shy about touting his skills, watch this appearance in the WGBH studios back in 1968.