Over the years I’ve gotten to appreciate Muhammad Ali. Yes, he was a showman, arrogant, and full of himself, but he changed the sport of boxing forever. He was also an anti-statist. He took on the federal government. While initially he lost in the courts, he later won in the arena of public opinion, and eventually the Supreme rendered a unanimous decision in his favor.
Born Cassius Clay, at the age of 22 he won the world heavyweight championship in 1964 from Sonny Liston in a stunning upset. Some people believe Liston threw the fight. There is no doubt, however, that Ali was a talented athlete.
Ali gained attention outside the boxing ring by defying the United States government.
“In 1967, three years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title. He did not fight again for nearly four years—losing a time of peak performance in an athlete’s career. Ali’s appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 1971 his conviction was overturned.”
Ali was a man of many words, and some of them cut to the quick. In response to fighting in Vietnam against people who didn’t do him any harm, Ali said, “no Vietcong ever called me nigger.”
While I don’t agree with everything Ali has said over the years (along with the Nation of Islam, Ali believed whites are devils), he has said a lot of things that ring true. I’ll give the devil his due when he deserves it, especially when he’s willing to pay a heavy price for his opinions.
The following short video interview is interesting in light of today’s talk about race.