“I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest” -Muhammad Ali
One of America’s greatest patriots, Muhammad Ali, is being honored for living a life of courage, conviction and love. The New York Post reported this week that the Louisville Regional Airport Authority’s board voted Wednesday January 16th, 2018, to change the name to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.
When one thinks about the life that the Louisville native lived, it’s easy to see how they came to this decision. Muhammad Ali, previously named Cassius Clay, initially came into the national consciousness through the sport of boxing. It was clear from the beginning that he was destined for greatness.
Muhammad Ali won a Gold Medal in the 1960 Olympics in the light heavyweight division. When he eventually became a professional, Ali would change the boxing world in the heavyweight division. Ali’s extraordinary boxing skill, unbridled confidence and ability to psychologically fluster opponents led him to becoming one of the youngest heavyweight champions of the world in history by beating, at the time, the seemingly unbeatable Sonny Liston. Ali got the former champion to quit in the ring after a 6 round boxing lesson. Ali would fight Liston again a year later, leaving no doubt as to who was the better man as he knocked Liston out in the first round.
Muhammad Ali’s fighting career spanned over 20 years and provided the boxing world with numerous epic battles with other heavyweight champions like Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton. But Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War is what elevated Ali from a great boxer to a powerful voice for change.
Standing against the system
Ali made his stance clear as to why he would be willing to jeopardize his livelihood, fame and reputation for a war he didn’t believe in when he famously said: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.”
“And shoot them for what?" he continued. "They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing title for several years, robbing the public of his prime. His case made it up to Supreme Court before they decided not to send him to prison and reinstated his eligibility to fight again.
A life of service
Ali’s life after boxing saw him elevated to iconic status in America and around the world because he placed humanitarian efforts and social justice at the center of his work. In receiving the prestigious Liberty Medal award, they noted some of his most impactful contributions:
“Ali has devoted his life to humanitarian causes, fighting for world peace, equal rights, religious liberty, hunger relief, and cross-cultural understanding. His work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages."
"Ali also has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered medical aid to Cuba; traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison. His recent attempt to free the American hikers held captive in Iran reinforces his tireless commitment to promoting freedom, justice, and humanity around the world.”
Rivalry, regrets and legacy
Muhammad Ali made mistakes along the way, notably his abuse of fellow boxing great Joe Frazier, whom he called "ugly", a "gorilla" and an "uncle Tom" during the lead ups to their three extraordinary fights. Ali would later apologize to Frazier, saying that he "said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn't have said. Called him names I shouldn't have called him."
"I apologize for that. I'm sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight."
Frazier graciously accepted the apology.
In his remaining years, the Muhammad Ali Center was erected in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to celebrate and continue his life’s work of serving others. Ali's battles with boxing’s best, the institutional racism of his country, and the horrors of Parkinson’s disease as a way of finding greatness within himself. And when the world saw how great he was, he used his enormous platform and recognition to do enormous good.
Louisville is clearly proud of Ali's accomplishments, and by naming the airport after him, they want the world to know it.
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