President Obama Summed Up Muhammad Ali's Life In One Simple Sentence
Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period.
As the president went on to explain, what truly separated Ali from the pack was not just his incredible ability to fight inside the boxing ring, but his fight for peace, tolerance and understanding outside of the ring.
In the president's words,
[Ali] stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn't. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.
During the 1960s, Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War, which was a very brave and bold move at the time.
In doing so, Ali offered a profound rebuke of the systemic racism plaguing America. He famously stated,
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
For his refusal to fight in Vietnam, Ali was convicted of draft evasion in 1967 and sentenced to spend five years in prison. He was also stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years.
Ali never went to prison. He appealed his conviction, which was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971.
Before that, in 1970, he returned to boxing and beat Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1974, Ali regained the world heavyweight title by defeating George Foreman in the so-called Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, Zaire (the modern Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa). Ali came into that fight as the underdog, but emerged a champion.
By standing against the odds in and out of the ring, Ali helped mold America.
Click here to read the president's full tribute to Muhammad Ali.