Welcome to another edition of SportsTalk With AJROK! In celebration of Ali’s 73rd birthday, I share with you, a blog post I wrote a few years ago; Muhammad Ali is the Greatest Because He Fought for What He Believed! Yes many know Muhammad Ali as The Greatest Of All Time. He may have fought professionally for 21 years, on the world heavyweight title three times and paid a heavy physical price for his labors, but Ali was so much more than that. It still remains an unequivocal point of view that Ali was the most charismatic sportsman of all-time and retains a place in the hearts of millions. Ali was not only one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves, but an individual who gave up the best years of his career because of a belief.
The boxer who was known for employing tactics such as the ‘Ali Shuffle’ and ‘rope-a-dope’ gave up the best years on his career and was striped of his championship belt because of his protest against the Vietnam War and refusal to be drafted into service out of religious conviction. Again I say, he gave up the best years of his career for a belief. Not just a belief but his belief in God. Which brings to the point of this article; What Superstar Athlete would give up the best years of their career today for a belief.
Think of all the greats, from LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams to whoever you consider a superstar today [insert name here]. Who would be willing to fight for their beliefs even at the point of risking incarceration and lost of the right to do what they do, at the height of their career. I’m sure some will name Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who left football to become an Army Ranger, was killed in southeastern Afghanistan in April 2004. While that was a very brave and patriotic move and I in no way want to undermine the importance of that, but while that was very valiant, that’s not the same thing.
What superstar athlete today would give it all up? Ali was striped of his championship title, and denied the right to fight and earn a living doing what he does. War was against his religious belief. His refusal to join military and go to war to fight against someone he didn’t perceive as an enemy of his, no matter what it cost it personally or professionally, separates him from many other great superstar athletes, not just in boxing, but sports as a whole. He also would not denounce Allah or the Nation Of Islam when the government tried to get him to. He even threw his Olympic Gold Medal in a local lake in disgust of this country’s actions.
After being giving the right to fight again professionally, even though he lost quite arguably his best years, he continued to win and perform at a level of excellence. He continued to prove he was still a champion. Ali still appears at major events, like the 1996 Olympics.
Probably one of his least known of his accomplishments, is how he travelled to Iraq in 1990 to negotiate the release of 15 United States citizens taken hostage by Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait. He managed to persuade a man who had openly disregarded the United Nations and the U.S. Government to release hostages after four months in captivity.
Six weeks after Ali brought the hostages back home to their relieved families, Operation Desert Storm bombarded Iraq, a harsh reminder to the hostages of what could have been had it not been for Ali. The events of Ali’s trip to Iraq have been documented in one the ESPN’s 30 for 30 shorts, Ali: The Mission.
Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005
To me Ali was the true measure of a champion. Not only for what he did in the confines of the boxing ring, but the principles he held on to and how he carried himself outside of the ring. I do not think we will see another champion or superstar athlete who would put everything on hold, risk it all including jail time if convicted, for a principle, for his beliefs, even if it cost him his career. Today as we celebrate The Champ’s 73rd birthday (Jan 17th), I ask again, what superstar athlete today would put it all on the line for what they believe?
Muhammad Ali is, was and will always be The Greatest! Happy Birthday Champ, Black Westchester salutes you!