Once again we are sadden by the loss of a world loved and renowned figure in the passing of Muhammad Ali, originally known as Cassius Clay. Muhammad Ali was an American professional boxer who was probably America’s greatest sports figure. A younger generation may not be aware of his accomplishments as a three time heavyweight champion of the world but an older generation remembers him as a bigger than life, unique, colorful individual. Many sporting pundits unhesitatingly dubbed him as one the greatest boxers in the world. However, his unapologetic spunk and blatant self-confessed confidence won him many admirers as well as haters who felt that he was too arrogant as a Black man. He was blatantly frank during a tumultuous time when there were many Whites believing that Blacks had their place. Ali became ‘infamous’ because he was too sure and proud of himself, lacking the meekness and subservient attitude that was expected from Blacks at that time.
Ali was smart, proud, and charismatic and used his poetic talent to proclaim his ability as an athlete with attributes as a handsome young man, second to none. His antics and strong self-esteem made the Black community love him and many Whites detest him, simply watching his fights in hopes he would lose. Whether you loved him or hated him, he was a controversial figure that caught your eye and gave you something to talk about.
There were those in this country who sought to bring him down, but it was the way he dealt with his convictions that made him one of the most beloved and respected men in the world. There came a time during his career that he rejected his slave name and converted to Islam. He was a devout follower of his faith and found it hard at first to understand other Blacks’ reluctance to embrace the Islamic faith. In 1966, during the height of his career he was drafted during the Vietnam War but he refused to fight, citing religious convictions as a conscientious objector that prohibited him from killing others who have done him no harm. He was sentenced to prison time, his boxing license revoked, and he was banned from fighting for three years, Throughout his trials and tribulations, he held firm to his convictions regardless of all the negative press and death threats from those opposing his stance. But the goal of bringing him down and destroying him backfired in the end when the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. In time he was able to come back and regain more fame and notoriety than previously.
He became a worldwide figure loved, respected, and admired for his talents in the ring—but mostly for his unfailing convictions (regardless of the tactics to derail and destroy him, especially by governmental interference by his own country). It takes a lot of courage and conviction to stick to what you truly believe, something too few people can honestly accomplish. His benevolent and humanitarian endeavors only intensified his international popularity.
Muhammad Ali represented resilient, fortitude and an uncompromising will to stand up for what you believe. This love was only made stronger when suffering from
Parkinson’s syndrome, a debilitating, paralyzing, crippling disease. He continued to manifest a positive and optimistic disposition, refusing to feel sorry for himself and seek pity. In spite of all the obstacles he met, he persevered and fought to carry on a normal life. In fact, his wit and humor made him even more lovable. His benevolence and philanthropic endeavors only enhanced his popularity as a world figure. He continued manifesting a love for people, giving of his time, wealth, and service until his untimely death.
Probably one of the most heartfelt and memorable moments that the world has experienced was when Muhammad Ali lit the 1996 Olympic Torch. He was a beloved symbol who resonated as brightly as the torch, proving that regardless of one’s impediments you can continue to endure and make a difference in others lives.
I can truly say that Muhammad Ali served as a positive role model for many people, especially African Americans at a time when we needed to love ourselves unconditionally. Ali will undoubtedly continue to be known as ‘The Greatest’ not only for his boxing accomplishments, but also for the life he lived. He will truly be missed.