DemDaily: The People’s Champion

June 13, 2016
Last Friday the world celebrated the life of boxing legend, great athlete and even better man - Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali stood up for his religious and moral principles, and never shied away from speaking out against those who used violence and prejudice to suppress the voices of others.
Speaking out as recently as last December on Donald Trump's Muslim immigration ban, Ali 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...Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam."
His words, and example, hold even greater meaning after Sunday's tragic attack and killings in Orlando.
As influential as Ali was on the sport of boxing, "The People's Champ" had an equally far reaching political impact.
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr was born with talents the likes of which the world may never see again.  He first gained national and international fame as an 18 year-old US Gold Medalist at the 1960 Olympics, followed by an unbroken string of professional matches before beating Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the World Heavy Weight Champion.
That same year, following his conversion to Islam, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, bringing attention to a religion that was relatively unknown in the United States.
Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 when, citing religious and moral objections, he refused to serve in the war in Vietnam - which led to a conviction for draft evasion and a 3-year suspension from boxing competition in the middle of his prime.
In his years away from boxing the Champ spoke out against the war on college campuses, thrusting himself into the forefront of the anti-war movement.
In 1970, on appeal, his title was restored and his undeterred combination of speed and strength continued to baffle opponents until his retirement in 1981 at age 39 --with a career record of 56-5, with 37 knockouts and 3 title reigns.

Ali went on to use his international fame to help others, meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1990 to negotiate the release of 15 American hostages following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and later served as an emissary for UNICEF and the UN World Food Programme.

In 2005 President George W. Bush awarded Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to a US citizen, for his athletic achievement and political activism.
Although the early onset of Parkinson's disease diminished his physical ability in later years, he remains one of the most famous figures of all time with a legacy of activism and pure athletic greatness that will live on for generations.
To those who still have a voice, may Ali's words and example live on.
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