Do you have anything in your life you believe in so strongly that you would never waver or betray that belief? Are your convictions so strong that it is the most important thing to you, so important that you would walk away from the life you know, your career, your ability to make a living to stay true to your beliefs?
I’m not talking about a crime or anything illegal, but a principle that guides your life, a belief system. Something you would not betray or change, especially under threat to take everything away from you or your ability to pursue your career.
Muhammad Ali did that. Everybody knows of this man regardless if you were a sports fan and specifically a boxing fan. At the peak of his career, he refused induction in the military to fight in VietNam. He did this due to his faith. For three years he was not allowed to fight, he had no means of income and the government stripped him of his title. Did you realize this was all done without due process? No trial, no charge, no conviction. The moment he refused induction, within hours his title was stripped and immediately his license to fight in every state pulled. Not in weeks, months or years. Within hours. It took three years with appeal after appeal, all the way to the supreme court. It ended when the court ruled in his favor as a conscious objector.
Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser will take you through this man’s life, not just the fights. It is not really a book about boxing but a book on his life, from the moment he stepped into a gym up though his official retirement. The book does cover his fights but it really covers his life, the fights are a small part of the context of the man.
Sometimes special people come into the world it seems to serve a greater good, I think Muhammad Ali was one of those people. Boxing was his mechanism to bring to the world consciousness of change and good for everybody. At a time in the ’60s, he became a polarizing figure, first through his decision to reject the draft. He was seen as a draft dodger, but also when he joined the Nation of Islam which was strongly seen as a black nationalist movement. Ali was never a white or black person, he was a people person. He loved everybody. The nation just gave him structure, a direction as a young man coming into fame and from an area, Kentucky at a time did not help a young black man.
However as the ’60s turned into the ’70s and as he regained his championships winning the title three times and fighting some of the most iconic and epic battles in the ring in all of history, the world really saw what he was all about. Peace goodwill and love for everybody. Throughout his life, he supported and cared for so many. No matter what they took or stole from him he always forgave them because none of it meant that much and he believed they needed it more than he did.
He traveled the world over many times and he was the most recognized man in the world, people in the most remote areas and poorest places knew him and flocked to him, he was a true peoples champion. He fed off of being surrounded by people. Ironically later in his life, the government, the same government that wanted to put him in jail used him as an ambassador a few times in the middle east.
After he retired he spent the rest of his life promoting his religion and what it really means. Not the nation of Islam but true Islam. He traveled to Mecca and saw it was really a religion of peace, no white and black just people. Something Malcolm-X also did and in the ’60s those men were very close. Ali never saw things in his life as black and white even though the nation of Islam did. He was managed and trained by white people but to him, they were just gods people.
As he aged and suffered through Parkinsons Syndrome, not brought on by boxing, but it did not help he still traveled the majority of his time to meet people. Nobody that went to see him left without a picture or photograph. He figured he owed it to the people and never disappointed. He was sly though, he always was. He carried a briefcase filled with pamphlets of Islam, all personally signed. Regardless if you were a Muslim he knew you would never throw away an autograph.
Even after his death, he helped me level set. Since 9-11 I really had a cautious eye toward the religion of Islam but if Muhammad Ali can see it so clearly who am I to be so judgemental. Every religion has some radical wing so I started to put it into context. Not everybody who practices the Islamic faith is bad. It is all about the person and what they believe and who they are.
Ali is and always will be a truly great and remarkable man. Still teaching after his death. If you don’t know much about him grab the book, check him out on-line and from a boxing perspective, He was the greatest, both in and out of the ring.