Muhammad Ali was a man of principle – and an example to others of how standing by your principle will eventually be rewarded. He was probably only the second most famous, and most courageous, black man on the planet – even Ali couldn’t eclipse Nelson Mandela. That was still enough to bring world leaders out to pay their tributes to him as his death, at the age of 74, was announced. Barack Obama (third place?) summed it up: “Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. If you just asked him, he’d tell you. But what made The Champ the greatest – what truly separated him from everyone else – is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.”
Ali the boxer excelled at his sport. He became world heavyweight champion at the age of 22, his confidence driving him to victory against the odds. He converted to Islam. When he was called up to join the military services and fight for the US in the Vietnam war, he refused – partly on religious grounds, and partly because he refused to be part of an imperialist war on a small country. He was convicted of evading the draft and it took him four years to overturn that conviction in the Supreme Court – four years during which he was not able to fight. As he could not defend his World Title, it was taken from him.
Once Ali was able to fight again, he won his title back. It seemed that boxing was to have the last laugh – it is thought to have been the sport, or at least his participation in competitive boxing so long, that contributed to him developing Parkinson’s Disease. Perhaps, though, it was Ali who had the last laugh in the end: he lived with his Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.
He was also proud of being black and of being a Muslim – which he expressed articulately. He insisted on being accepted on who he was and refused to compromise or be quiet about those two matters in order to win acceptance in a white Christian-dominated society. Today, or maybe next year, Donald Trump wouldn’t want even to let him in to that society. It behoves us all to continue Ali’s example and fight for ourselves and all our brothers and sisters to be accepted for ourselves, as we are.