Ali’s greatest victories came outside the ropes

An editorial from The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — “My enemy is the white people, not Vietcongs or Chinese or Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight but you won’t even stand up for me here at home … My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me.”

— Muhammad Ali, speaking to a white student who was challenging Ali’s draft avoidance. In 1966, Ali refused induction into the military during the Vietnam War, saying he was a conscientious objector protected by his religious beliefs.

Imagine, for a moment, what distance some would travel to avoid confrontation and controversy.

Imagine you are on an ascendant path, armed with athletic talents to be the very best at your particular sport.

Close your eyes and see all of the glittering gold spread before you, all of the fame, all of the glory we bestow upon idols.

Imagine if you had the megaphone and could call out any injustice of your choosing because, well, because you held the megaphone. You were the champion, the greatest, and the rest of the world wanted to hear what pearls of wisdom you had to share.

What words would come out of your mouth?

Would they be incendiary? Or would you be quiet? Would you avoid the headlines and choose something programmed, something innocuous? Something vanilla. Something safe.

Muhammad Ali didn’t walk away and he didn’t shut up…

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