Muhammad Ali was admitted to a Phoenix area hospital in June, 2016, being initially admitted for respiratory issues. Us Weekly Magazine reports Ali, unfortunately, died shortly after admittance from septic shock. He had been living with Parkinson’s disease for three decades and died at the age of 74.
Muhammad Ali was not just the world’s greatest boxing heavyweight champion, he was a great father, activist, speaker, and a man of peace. Whether speaking out about the Vietnam war or taunting his boxing opponents, he commanded the attention from those who didn’t want to hear his truth. His commitment and advocacy to the civil rights will always be remembered as a focal point in his life.
Muhammad Ali is an important figure in black and American history, and it’s important to celebrate his legacy. While he accomplished many things in his life, we reflect on those things that make him “the world’s greatest.”
Three-Time World Champion
Once the boxing ban was lifted, (after refusing to enlist in the military), Muhammad Ali got right back into the swing of things and fought in several high-profile fights. However, he suffered a huge loss to boxer Leon Spinks in Las Vegas. Promoter Bob Arum noticed that Ali was not at the top of his game in that fight.
“Ali was beaten by his own shadow”
However, seven months later, Ali had a rematch with Spinks and it was then that he made history. He became the first heavyweight champion to take the world title for the third time. He won by unanimous decision against Spinks when they fought again in 1979. It was shortly after, in 1981, that he announced he would retire from boxing.
Muhammad Ali was not shy about sharing his views on the Vietnam war. According to Independent, he was firmly against the war long before it became popular to want peace, and refused to be drafted into the U.S. Military. Since the country was enveloped in the civil rights movement at the time, he believed people of color were not considered equals in America, so why should he fight and die for the country? As punishment, instead of being imprisoned, Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing for three years and missed out on millions of dollars in endorsements.
Ali was willing to take the punishment head on, saying in response to a five-year prison sentence (which was successfully appealed), for refusing the military: “So what? We [black people] have been in jail for 400 years.”
Possibly, one of the most memorable moments of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was Muhammad Ali opening the ceremonies by lighting the Olympic torch. At the time, Ali was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and many thought having him appear was an odd choice. The Washington Post discussed that the main worry was that Ali’s Parkinson’s would interfere with the torch lighting, and it almost did. Dick Ebersol, formerly of NBC Sports, remembers Muhammad Ali just standing there with the torch, hovering the flame over the wick and nothing was happening. This didn’t happen on screen but it took about 15 seconds for the fire to get going. Ali did not let his illness stop him from representing America.
Messenger of Peace
Muhammad Ali had the ability to bring people together from all walks of life by spreading the message of respect ad humility. He first spoke to the United Nations in 1978 to denounce Apartheid in South Africa. Since then, Ali has been considered a U.N. “messenger of peace.”
The U.N. listed the many ways Muhammad Ali has assisted them on humanitarian missions.
“He has delivered food and medical supplies to children in Indonesia, Morocco, and to an orphanage for Liberian refugees in the Ivory Coast. In 1990, Ali met with Saddam Hussein and helped secure the release of 14 American hostages from Iraq. He has traveled to Afghanistan as a United States messenger of Peace. Jimmy Carter called him ‘Mr. International Friendship.'”
Muhammad Ali was an electrifying personality who left his mark on American history. He was the people’s champion and there will never be another like him. We should continue to celebrate his many accomplishments for years to come.
[Image via Team USA/Youtube]