This photo exemplifies a part of Ali that most people don’t remember, his sense of humor and fun. I was around when then Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Sonny Liston, a man who had made short work out of Floyd Patterson another great fighter. Liston was so feared that many boxers didn’t care to mix it up in the ring with him. A lot of people wanted the arrogant young Gold Medalist to be pounded into mincemeat by the threatening Liston. Everyone was very surprised when Sonny couldn’t come out of his corner for the seventh round, some people even speculated that Liston had thrown the fight to up the gate for a rematch. Right from the start Ali’s career was filled with controversy.
Joining the Nation of Islam also known as the Black Muslims an separatist group did not help his reputation especially in a time of racial unrest and befriending Malcolm X known in the media as the minister of hate. Changing his name to Muhammad Ali was the final insult to sensitive white folks especially in the south. No one in my old neighborhood cared about all of that noise, we just thought that it was a little odd that he wanted to join those bowtie wearing paper peddlers. I personally and my friends just wanted to see him knock people out.
In 1966 the real trouble started, Ali claimed conscientious objector status on religious grounds and his career collapsed. From 1967 until 1970 he was banned from boxing. arguably those three years that were stolen from him were three prime years and cost him a fortune in revenues. Ali was powerful inside of the boxing ring and on the outside, as a private citizen. He was too powerful, too influential and too arrogant, God forbid that a black man exhibit some pride, in America that was and still is the cardinal sin, gotta keep those Darkies in their place. These are the real reason behind the government denying him conscientious objector status and nothing else. In an era of war and national conscription, you can not have the worlds most visible black athlete voicing dissent against the official views of the United States government; even though those views were based on a lie. We now know, that the golf of Tonkin incident was a complete fabrication created to increase our presence in southeast Asia. How did that work out for you Secretary McNamara!
Ali’s case went all the way to the supreme court and he won, proving that you can’t keep a good man down, at least not for long.He came back and proved himself time after time against some of the greatest heavy weight boxers of the century. By putting everything on the line, career, reputation and even his life Muhammed Ali exhibited the kind of courage that few people possess and to me that’s what made him the greatest.