There are certain figures who are, for whatever reason, transcendent. For instance, people knew who Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan were, even if they didn’t follow baseball or basketball. Muhammad Ali was, and is, like that. In a period when the heavyweight championship of boxing still was culturally significant, before an alphabet soup of different boxing authorities stripped the championship of any lasting meaning, Ali was most noteworthy.
I remember that it was the conventional wisdom that that Clay could not possibly beat champion Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964, a fight I recall hearing on the radio. Yet, Clay prevailed.
Shortly after the fight, he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ultimately, it was that conversion, scorned by some opponents who kept referring to him by what he called his “slave name”, that was the gateway to the next phase of his life: being stripped of his boxing crown and even his boxing license in 1967 for his “refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.” This was a momentous event, which “inspired Martin Luther King Jr. – who had been reluctant to alienate the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda – to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time.” Ultimately, Ali won his US Supreme Court case, but not before he lost nearly four years working at his chosen profession.
This set the stage Continue reading “Muhammad Ali is 70”