Barack And Michelle Obama Release A Statement On Ali, First Couple Pay Tribute To ‘The Greatest’

Barack and Michelle Obama released a statement on Muhammad Ali. The first couple paid tribute to the boxing legend who died on Friday, at the age of 74, by calling him “The Greatest,” among other superlatives.

The president and the first lady’s statement on Ali expressed the gratitude that they both felt to have known the boxer and activist, noted People.

“But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time.”

Barack Obama in Chicago Senate office working on DNC keynote speech (pic of Muhammad Ali in background), Chicago, Illinois, June 22, 2004. [Photo by M. Spencer GreenAP] Barack Obama in Chicago Senate office working on DNC keynote speech (photo of Muhammad Ali in background), Chicago, Illinois, June 22, 2004. [Image via M. Spencer Green/AP]If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, the above one that shows the then-Illinois senator working on his Democratic National Convention keynote speech in Chicago speaks volumes. As he reviews his speech, he is shadowed by a photograph of a triumphant Ali, standing over opponent Sonny Liston.

In the statement, the president and his wife wrote about Ali’s skills as an athlete, a poet, and an advocate for black Americans before and during the Civil Rights era, in For the Win USA Today.

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

Obama also recalled the time when Ali was not a beloved American icon but was considered a rebel and a draft dodger. He spent four years in prison because he refused to fight in the Vietnam war, but upon release, he went on to reclaim his title as “Heavyweight Champion of the Word” — not once — but three times. In later years, Ali was looked upon as the pacifist that he was.

“That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”

In 2005, while George W. Bush was president, Ali was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Bush then made a statement about Ali’s love for boxing and equal passion for justice, per The Hill.

“When you say the greatest of all time is in the room, everyone knows who you mean. Quite a claim to make, but as Muhammad Ali once said, ‘it’s not bragging if you can back it up.’ And this man backed it up… Across the world billions know Muhammad Ali as a brave, compassionate, charming man. The American people are proud to call Ali one of our own.”

In a more recent statement on Ali, Bush referred to the late boxer an icon who was not only beautiful on the outside, but the inside as well.

[Image via Chris Ratcliffe/Getty]