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Muhammad Ali was an African American who was a former professional heavy weight boxer and one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. His boxing career started in the 1960’s and it ended in 1981. He was the first boxer to win the heavyweight title in three different occasions and was an Olympic gold medalist. Ali won fifty-six times in his twenty-one year professional boxing career. Muhammad Ali was the most important African American athlete of all time because he used his fame to promote issues relevant to black Americans including opposition to the war in Vietnam, support for the civil rights movement, and used his boxing platform to promote equal treatment for black people in the United States. He was a very outspoken person on issues of racism, religion and politics, which made him a target in a time where the United States had racial segregation and was going through the cold war.
Muhammad Ali was born originally as Cassius Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky. He changed his name legally to Muhammad Ali when he converted to Islam and was a practicing Muslim. Elijah Mohammad, one of the most famous human rights activists who also went by the name Malcolm X gave Cassius his Muslim name. The biggest fight in his life wasn’t in a boxing ring; it was his refusal to enlist in the Vietnam War 1. His stance shocked America and created an activism movement against war. In March 1966 at age 25 at the peak of his career, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War. He said that war was against his religion and his beliefs. He also didn’t understand why he needed to kill people who he never met, never called him any racist names, hurt his family or commanded dogs to attack him. He was right away stripped of his championship belt, his passport and was not aloud to box anywhere in the United States. He was fined $10,000 and was to serve a jail time of 5 years. Martin Luther King Jr. was in support for Ali and spoke of his opposition in public after Ali took his stand. Ali gave him courage to speak about the oppression of war. Over 20,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War that year. Ali did not serve time in jail because he was out on bond while it was under appeal and investigation. The opposition to the Vietnam War began to grow and Ali’s viewpoint gained empathy as he was struggling financially and had no career. He was not aloud to leave the country. He spoke around the country criticizing the war and advocating black pride and racial justice. He believed one of the reasons he was drafted was because of his race and religion. Year’s prior, Joe Lewis the former heavy champion donated his entire paycheck from his mega boxing match to help fund the world war. After Lewis’s retirement the US government demanded the former boxer pay taxes on that fight’s proceeds, even though Lewis donated the entire amount to the government. This act bankrupted Joe Lewis and he died as poor man. Ali stood in protest of the sickening treatment of African Americans, even if they fought for the country. His case worked its way through the courts before his conviction was reversed 1971. He returned to prize fighting after 4 years.
Ali joined the Nation of Islam, an African American political and religious movement. He spoke about the genocide against African Americans and was inspired to meet people of different colors from all over the world to give him a different outlook and greater spiritual awareness. In Ali’s childhood he was told that colored folks had no rights and were lucky to even live in America. The laws of the United States of America treated colored people like second-class citizens when Ali was growing up. There were racial designation areas where blacks could eat, shop, work, and send their children to school at. They were told where to live and whom they can marry or not marry. They would get treated more harshly if they broke the law. The city’s most popular amusement park was close to his house but only whites were aloud inside or near the park. This bothered the black children and made them feel like caged animals. Ali’s father told him that only money could give a colored man equality and respect. At the age of 12, Ali’s bike was stolen. He told a police officer who advised him to learn boxing to defend himself. Ali took his words and started training with officer who then became his coach in his boxing career. Ali claimed he always wanted to famous when was a young man. A journalist asked him why was it important for him to be famous. He replied that so he could show that as black man that you did not need to follow the white man’s commands and you could be free and say whatever you wanted and go wherever you wanted. He wanted show equality was a possibility for a colored man. Muhammad Ali introduced the term ‘Black Power’ to the public White America though his celebrity status. He aligned himself with Elijah Mohammad and Martin Luther King Jr. He would spread their philosophies to promote equality and build awareness around the nation.
Muhammad Ali was also a humanitarian and a philanthropist. His humanitarian and philanthropic efforts were a result of the struggles he had in his childhood, growing up a colored person in racist America. He was never a greedy person. He donated millions of dollars to charities and to disadvantaged people of all backgrounds. It is estimated that Ali helped feed over 22 million people around the world that were suffering from hunger due to shortage of food. He always fought for minorities and disadvantaged people whenever he had the chance. He was in support for Native American rights, he travelled to Africa to boycott the Moscow Olympics, and Ali went to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of American hostages and was successful. Ali persuaded the US government to come to the aid of Palestinian and Rwandan refugees. Even when Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome, he never stopped spreading peace. He acquired the disease from the constant head trauma from the sport of boxing. He raised awareness for Parkinson’s disease and went to Afghanistan to spread peace in behalf of the United Nations. He always took time out of his day to help the less fortunate.
As Ali grew older, his disease worsened. Ali could not talk properly, not walk straight and always seemed drowsy. Ali always tried to make public appearances for his fans and followers despite his deteriorating health. His body was giving up on him and he was getting very frail. He had visible tremors and had a very hard time remembering information. Ali was hospitalized in 2014 with a respiratory disease. He kept getting infections in different parts of his body and in 2016 passed away from septic shock at age 74. People around the world mourned him. Over 1 billion people around the globe watched Ali’s memorial. It was a great loss. Muhammad Ali has greatly influenced not only the youth of African American communities but also other minority groups because he has taught people to never give up on their dreams and it did not matter what color you were.
Ali and his greatness inspired many black athletes of the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s. He is a perfect example of how to use your voice to spread peace and equality. He told people to work hard and to never give up. He touched so many people with his kindness and donations. The world might never have another Muhammad Ali. In the sports culture of America today, athletes only chase fame and make tons of money without helping their communities. They do not like talking about politics or bad things going around the world. It is very rare for an athlete to donate money. Boxers get paid really well due to Muhammad Ali bringing so much prestige to the sport. Certain athletes donate a huge sum of their fortunes such P.K Subban, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lebron James and Tyson Fury. They all were influenced by Muhammad Ali. A federal law was introduced to protect fighters called The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, also known as the Ali Act. It was to protect the rights and health of boxers/martial artists and to increase sportsmanship and fairness within the boxing/MMA industries. The Act was introduced in response to the widespread abuse of boxers and fighters by corruption.
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