The Greatest Boxer.
The Greatest Muslim American.
The Greatest International Symbol of Non Violent Protest.
The comments section* is full of anecdotes of people meeting Ali.
“[he] said he went to shake his hand but burst into uncontrollable tears and Ali reached out and held him.”
“There’s a picture of him with his arm around my painfully shy twenty eight year old mother. You can tell he was trying to put her at ease and that he was really interested in her.”
“I finally got brave and told him that one of the first sports memories I have is sitting on the couch with my dad, watching Ali fight. He took my hand and said, very quietly, “That’s a special memory, because you were with your dad. I’m proud to be a part of it.” “
Excerpt from Obama’s comments
“He wasn’t perfect, of course. For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes – maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves. Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world. We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visiting children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest. We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all on the world stage once again; a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn’t take the spark from his eyes.”
In a time when people on one side in America are becoming more nativist, isolationist, and insular, it is good to remember why Ali made such a difference. He was the most recognizable man in the world of his time. Illiterate people in villages in Africa knew who he was. He changed public opinion. After making his stand, it turns out he was on the right side of history. But the more important part was making the stand when it was unpopular. He used his formidable (and earned) reputation to engage audiences and we respected him.
At the time of Ali’s conversion Islam was foreign but known, therefore respected from afar but not feared (largely because there were small numbers in America). It wasn’t the bugaboo religion people make it out to be now. You have to see the big picture. Afghanistan and Russia. The Iranian Revolution. Forces that are more political in nature than religious. But any ideology will do if you have a need to make a specific segment of your population follow you down the rabbit hole with blind faith.
Stand up like Ali. Be eloquent like Ali. Know why your side is right. Evolve personally like Ali. And take what life throws at you with dignity, not snivelling resentment. The personal is political and it always will be. What you do and what you say. Where you put your attention. Whatever are your intentions. Everything matters.
Watching footage of Ali (never a boxing fan, but remember him from television) in the ring now, I am amazed how his pretty face dodged all those punches so quickly and seemingly effortlessly. Taking the risk of someone punching you in the face, but knowing yourself and preparing yourself so well that you can dodge it? The other boxers hold their gloves up to protect their heads. Ali taunts them with his face and they can’t touch it.
He’s the opposite of a Trump – a coward who retweets offensive racists, and shrugs, as if, Did I do that? Ali led with his pretty face and some rhyming taunts, but he backed up everything he did and said. He was loved and is mourned all over the world.
*stories from comments section at Jezebel.com