By David G. Firestone
It’s very rare that we lose an icon on the level of Muhammad Ali. It’s even rarer that an athlete transcends his sport and his culture like Ali did. There have been plenty of great boxers over the years, there are many more coming. Ali had somethings that those other boxers didn’t.
Though his detractors called him “brash” and “arrogant,” he said what he had to say, and stood for what he had to stand for. He refused to serve in the army in Vietnam. His quote can be considered legendary when he said that he had“no quarrel with them Vietcong…My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me n—-r, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape or kill my mother and father…. How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
As a result of that inspired quote, and the inspired reasons behind it, he lost his boxing licenses, he forfeited his titles, and spent time in jail. Ali was never a man to back down from what he believed in, and appealed the decisions, and won. In the ring, he was an innovator. With a lifetime record of 56 and 5, Ali is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. His nickname “The Greatest” is proof of that.
Out of the ring he was as good a statesman as he was a boxer. His anti-war ideals were supported by large numbers of people. His pride in himself made him a respected figure. He became the most famous man in the world. His love for peace was such that as tensions between Iraq and the US were escalating in 1991, he traveled to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein to try and release American hostages. When Parkinson’s Disease robbed him of the ability to be Ali, he could have given up hope, but he decided to be the poster child for Parkinson’s. In this sense, Ali was more legend than human…and at the same time, more human then legend.
The only thing that can and should be said in the end is that we really have tragically lost an American icon.