By Jessica Aurie
This weekend, it seems that everyone has found a place in their heart for Muhammad Ali, and if you haven’t found one yet it’s time to look him up! My first memory of ‘the greatest’ originates from the moment that I first noticed a quote of his on a wall in my High school classroom. It read:
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
Today, I remember and share this inspiring and powerful quote in respect for his life, a quote that has reminded me and so many others to keep fighting for our dreams.
Yesterday, Muhammad Ali, a worldwide boxing icon, died at the age of 74. Ali had suffered from Parkinson’s Syndrome since 1984 and was taken into the hospital on Thursday supposedly for a respiratory condition and had been kept in as a precaution. The sudden news of his death has left people all over the world shocked and grieving.
Ali, primarily famous for his title as the ‘World Heavyweight Boxing Champion,’ has lived an incredible life and has used his celebrity status for the greater good. Starting to box at the age of twelve in response to his little red bike being stolen, Ali went on to fight battles in and outside of the ring. As the Mayor of Kentucky eloquently said in his speech earlier today, Ali was a “United Nations messenger of peace, a humanitarian and a champion athlete.”
As if it wasn’t enough that Ali had won 31 of his 61 fights in an incredible winning streak during the beginning of his career, Ali also went on to fight racial segregation, inequality and even protest against the Vietnam war.
Born Cassius Clay in the small southern town Louisville in Kentucky, Muhammad Ali became the first boxer to capture a world heavyweight title on three separate occasions. But, nonetheless, even this champion had to face the injustices brought about by racial segregation. After winning the gold medal in the 1960s Summer Olympics, Ali was said to have thrown his medal into a river after returning home to find himself being rejected from an ‘all white’ cafe.
During the turbulent, unequal time that our hero lived through, the US declared war on Vietnam. Ali, however, refused to be conscripted, saying:
“No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters. I have said it once and I will say it again. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.”
Michael Parkinson, who was lucky enough to interview Ali four times, said that when he did speak with Ali he had to prepare at length. Ali felt strongly about his principles and wasn’t afraid to use his wisdom to stand up for them. Parkinson told the BBC that he considered Ali to be “one of the most extraordinary talkers” he had ever come across as well as being “threatening” when discussing the issue of racism because of his passion and anger towards inequality.
So, not only was Ali an unprecedented boxing athlete, he was an unwavering and powerful representative for some of the most basic civil rights that many African-American’s were being starved of in the US.
The controversy surrounding this sporting role model was heightened once again when he chose to convert to the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. Ali explained that his faith was shaped by his experience of racial prejudice and he found that Islam offered an alternative source of spiritual authority to American Christianity. Ali appealed to his faith recently in response to the bombing in Paris and in other countries around the world, saying:
“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.”
This man, this hero and fighter for equality, faith and minorities won’t be forgotten. His fearlessness to stand up for civil rights and his untouchable charismatic way of sharing his beliefs have gone global. Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of the century, a representative of the oppressed and a defender of the Islamic faith will be greatly missed.
To finish, let’s look at an interview in which Ali was once asked how he would like to be remembered after he was gone. Ali humbly replied:
“As a man who never sold out his people. But if that’s too much, then just a good boxer.”