Like many others of my baby boom generation, I not only loved Muhammad Ali, I saw him as a spokesman for our generation. Yes, he was one hell of a boxer. I would say he was the greatest of all-time. But he was so much more than a boxer. Of course, Ali had an incredibly infectious, outrageous and down right lovable personality. This fact is well documented, but there is so much to the story.
I became aware of Ali in 1974 as a kid in Flint. My dad and a buddy had tickets to go see Ali's famous fight against Joe Frazier broadcast via satellite at the IMA Sports Arena in downtown Flint. The next morning all my dad could talk about was the fight. I'd never seen him so giddy. That is where the Ali story began for me back then as an 11 year old.
As a teenager in the seventies a year or two after the official end of the Vietnam war, I became aware of a different side of Ali: The anti war activist Ali. This became the side of Ali I was most impressed with and interested in. Ten years or so earlier in 1967 Ali received notice that he was being drafted. This was at the height of the Vietnam war. At his scheduled induction Ali would not step forward when his name was called and refused to be drafted. He made a statement to the public saying that he was a conscientious objector and that war was against his religion. He also made a public statement saying that, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger," Appallingly, on June 20, 1967, Ali was was found guilty of a felony regarding his refusal to be drafted, and his boxing license was revoked.
Of all of Ali's accomplishments, his anti war stance has always impressed me the most. Ali's anti war stance and willingness to call out an often racist culture in American was and remains truly heroic. Here's to you Muhammad Ali. You are a hero.
Purple Walrus Press.