Guest Opinion: Ali electrified the world
It is a testament to the life of Muhammad Ali that no one could ever be indifferent about him or what he stood for in the 74 years he was with us. The three-time heavyweight champion of the world was so much more than the best exemplar of a sport he dominated by either force of personality or pugilistic skill for close to two decades.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Ky., Muhammad Ali was a man of conscience who put his ambitions on the line by refusing to fight overseas on behalf of his country in an unjust war. He was a man of faith who stood up for his beliefs when identifying with the Nation of Islam was to invite being marginalized. He was an unrepentantly proud African-American at a time when blacks were just emerging from second-class citizenship sanctioned by American law and custom. Ali was a man of uncommon wit, undeniable charisma and principled action. He was a terror in the ring and a first-rate humanitarian outside of it.
Ali was so famous (and reviled in some circles) that he could walk down the street of any city or village on the planet and be recognized at the height of his fame. World leaders and celebrities were reduced to giddiness in his presence.
When he developed Parkinson’s disease as the result of the many blows to the head he suffered in the ring, he didn’t retreat from public view or feel sorry for himself. Much of the country fell in love with him again years after he left the ring when he carried the Olympic torch in advance of the Atlanta games in 1996. After all the doubt cast upon him for refusing to fight in Vietnam when he was drafted, it was clear that Ali truly loved his country.
Muhammad Ali once spelled out what he wanted as his legacy: “I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
Yes, Muhammad Ali will be remembered for this and so much more.