Many believe that Mohammad Ali made the world a better place and that his lingering legacy reminds us of how to move forward as humankind
There was so much more than boxing to Mohammad Ali, and his lingering legacy reminds us of a loving and beloved soul who taught us what it means for humankind to be connected harmoniously. Ali made it seem so simple and achievable, as such harmony and love began from within him and exuded onto everyone around him.
One cannot deny he was a champion in every way, and that he was at the top of his sport. Sports Illustrated demonstrated this sentiment when they named him Sportsman of the Century in 1997. And while boxers such as Sugar Ray Leonard showed greater technique and had achieved so much more in the sport, regarding sportsmanship, none other surpassed Ali.
Ali’s statement “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” represented him in life, just as much as in the ring.
Ali lived by a set of values that manifest themselves in his every waking moment. In the sea of humanity, there are not many who manage to do this and those who do rightfully go down in history as legends. Even as a child, his lingering sense of ethics and social justice motivated him in every decision. The telling of Ali’s childhood story, about his entry into the boxing world, is well known. The small boy who sought police assistance, and justice, for his stolen bike, then guided mystically to his destiny in the boxing ring.
He was intrinsically a man of service, a strong man who nurtured others at every opportunity. Love of humanity was an act of revolution for him. Despite retirement in 1981, and subsequent diagnosis of Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984, Ali never stopped his philanthropy and social justice activities. This tireless work, despite the odds, saw President George W. Bush award Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
A force to be reckoned with, in the ring and the real world
However, the US Government wasn’t always in favor of Ali. Nevertheless, it was Ali’s brave actions that became part of the force that would change all of that. In 1966, Ali became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He had converted to Islam only two years previously and gave his reason to abstain from service as religion.
Sadly, at that time the US government were skeptical and denied him conscientious objector status. He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to a maximum of 5 years in prison. Additionally, they stripped him of his titles and forbade him from boxing for three years. But this did not defeat Ali, as his life outside of the ring matched his life within it – dogged determination to win in a fair way.
Ali’s refusal of transcription into the Vietnam War was one of his most poignant acts during that time in history. The social climate in the US and the entire world was changing irreversibly. Ali played an influential role in this transformation. His stand was both political and a matter of faith.
Indeed, Ali always had a lingering core belief that a Higher Power was orchestrating everything
He believed that he should live his life in alignment with that. His convictions were so strong that the racist government of the time could not bend him or knock him out. Indeed, he once stated: “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.”
When Ali converted to Islam in 1964 the American public considered this highly controversial. Ali had grown up in a racist world that considered him an outsider because of his dark skin. The very Christian churches that became shocked by his conversion would also not allow him to pass through their doors, solely due to his color.
Breaking down barriers
Ali felt that Islam broke down the racial barriers, and he willingly entered the religion’s open arms. According to Islamic tradition, and also symbolically, the boy born with the name Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. would become the Mohammad Ali we would come to love and know.
So when his religious beliefs motivated him to abstain from fighting in Vietnam, he publicly stated poignantly: “My conscience won’t let me go shot 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 nigger; they never lynched me, they didn’t put any dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. Shoot them for what? How can I shoot poor people? Just take me to jail.”
In 1970, the government allowed Ali back in the ring, Then, in 1971 the Supreme Court would finally overturn the ridiculous draft-evasion conviction. Indeed, Ali’s firm stands altered history. In 1974 he was back on form in the ring. Ali knocked out both Joe Frazier and George Foreman. He would also regain his title from Leon Spinks in 1978. Ali was on fire in the ring, and his self-belief loud and clear. He declared himself the greatest, and everyone agreed. On this high note, he declared his retirement.
A life of chapters filled with his service to humanity
Nevertheless, in 1980 the lure of a guaranteed $8 million saw Ali get back into the ring. However, the public could clearly see the first evidence of Parkinson’s syndrome in his body, the syndrome his father died from. Ali lost the title to Larry Holmes; Holmes emotional reaction revealed his deep respect for the boxing legend. The following year, Ali would also lose to Trevor Berbick, and finally, call it a day in the sport.
It wouldn’t be until 1984 that Ali would officially reveal that he had Parkinson’s syndrome, a condition that is different to Parkinson’s disease. However, rather than allow this to make him shrink into the background, Ali saw this change in his life as merely a new chapter. It was from now on that he would bring his values from the ring to the world stage.
Immediately, Ali used his reputation as a force for peace between nations and peoples.
In 1990 he managed what many would have dreamed impossible – he negotiated with Saddam Hussein the release of 15 hostages from Iraq. In 1996 he would light the torch for the Summer Olympic’s opening ceremony in Atlanta. The United Nations would recognize his force for harmony and goodness in the world by appointing him their Messenger of Peace in 2000.
Ali supported dozens of charitable organizations during his later years. He did not waste a moment of his life. His drive to be of service was insatiable until the very end. Indeed, his legacy is clearly still lingering in the hearts and minds of millions of people that span the entire globe.