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Muhammad Ali: Fearless inside and outside the ring

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By Ebone’ Parks
The Birmingham Times

 

A public memorial will take place on Friday, June 10 for the legendary heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali who passed away last week from septic shock due to natural causes at the age of 74.

Ali was known to be not only a great champion but also as someone who stood for what he believed.

Many people had never heard a successful black man talk about himself so boldly in front of whites. And it made a difference, Ali biographer Thomas Hauser said.

”Every time that Muhammad Ali looked in the mirror and said `I’m so pretty,” what he was really saying – before it became fashionable – is `black is beautiful,” Hauser said. ”I can’t tell you how many people … have come up to me and said, `Before Muhammad Ali, I thought it was better to be white than black. I was ashamed of my color, and Ali made me proud. Ali made me just as happy to be black as somebody else being white.”’

Muhammad Ali, world heavyweight boxing champion, looks at himself in a mirror during a training session in Manila, Philippines before his Oct. 1 1975 fight against Joe Frazier.Source: AP
Muhammad Ali, world heavyweight boxing champion, looks at himself in a mirror during a training session in Manila, Philippines before his Oct. 1 1975 fight against Joe Frazier.Source: AP

Asked about his stance on the North Vietnamese, Ali famously said: ”They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me. They didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

It would have been easier and more lucrative for Ali to keep quiet and go along with what many in white society wanted from him, said his longtime friend and sports commentator Howard Cosell. They wanted ”a white man’s black man,” Cosell once said.

The United States has a long history of expecting deference from black athletes, said Clarence Lang, chairman of the African and African-American studies department at the University of Kansas.

”The expectation is that you will keep your head down, that you don’t make white people uncomfortable by being excellent and being mindful and outspoken about the fact that you are excellent,” Lang said.

As he passed away Friday evening, he was surrounded by love. His children and wife took their last moments to love, kiss and hug on their father and husband before he departed. His daughter, Hanna Ali published via Twitter the last moments she got to spend with her father. She tweeted how they all tried to remain strong, whispering in his ear, “You can go now. We will be okay…You can go back to God now.” Hanna also discussed how the champion’s heart remained for 30 minutes after all of his organs had failed.

1978:Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila and Hanna (Getty Images)
1978:Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila and Hanna (Getty Images)

Born as Cassius Clay Jr. in 1942, the outspoken, tenacious fighter was the most well-known and respected boxer in the world. Clay was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky where his love for boxing began at the tender age of 12. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Known for defeating Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston, Ali was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.

Many entertainers and public leaders last week paid their respects via social media, honoring the one and only Muhammad Ali in heartwarming posts discussing his influence in the world. The Obamas released a statement, discussing admiration for the boxer over the years. “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family, and we pray that the greatest fighter of them all finally rests in peace.”

Muhammad Ali at the age of 12 (courtesy photo)
Muhammad Ali at the age of 12 (courtesy photo)

Ali wasn’t afraid to say anything nor was he afraid of anyone. Not only was he known for boxing, he was known for being America’s enemy during the height of his boxing career. He denounced his “slave name” and converted to the Nation of Islam at the young age of 22. He refused to be the “white man’s negro” after he refused to fight and serve in the army because of his religion. This uproar caused Ali to lose his title and was ultimately sentenced to 5 years in prison which he refused and was fined $10,000 and the ability to fight for 3 and a half years.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 unanimously overturned his conviction for draft evasion.

The longest fight of Muhammad’s career was ultimately Parkinson’s disease which he battled for three decades. The disease eventually took his ability to speak and instead communicated through “winks and smiles” according to family.

On Friday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said at a ceremony: “Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he has only one hometown.”

The world continues to mourn a global ambassador who once said: “I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”

Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.

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(courtesy photo)

 

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