I’m sad to say that for most of my life I didn’t like Muhammad Ali – until I recently visited the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY. In my mind, he had 3 strikes against him.
1 – He was arrogant. I still remember him shouting in the ring “I am the greatest!” Of course, he just won the boxing world championship which made him the greatest boxer in the world.
2. He converted to Islam. I didn’t know why anyone in their right mind would want to do that.
3. He was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War.
And, even sadder to say, I think behind these three reasons was racism that kept me from seeing a real person rather than just another black man.
After I found out some real information about him, I see him now as a hero. Plus, I have changed in my heart to see my racism and put it aside. This opens up new possibilities of seeing people and I highly recommend the same for everyone. Please keep reading for what changed in my mind about Ali.
1. He came into boxing by accident about age 11 when he went to a local police station after his bicycle was stolen. They didn’t find his bike but invited him to join a boxing club for youth. He quickly excelled at boxing and by sheer hard work and training actually became “the greatest” boxer. No denying that he earned his bragging rights. And later, when his title was stripped, he won it back. Friends, that is impressive – the stuff of real heros.
2. Here’s the reason behind Ali going to Islam. Even though he was the greatest boxer in the world, he still couldn’t enter a cafe for lunch in his own hometown, except maybe thru the back door. He was still just another black man in the segregated South. It was the Christians who told him he wasn’t good enough for the front door. When Muslims accepted him he even changed what he called his “slave name”, Cassius Clay, to complete his rejection of Christianity. So now I see that the version of Christianity that tolerates and promotes racism, of which I was a partner, is the same version that Ali rejected and that I now reject as well. Sadly, this corrupted version of Christianity is still alive and well in America.
3. His draft dodging rationale was this: why should he risk his life fighting for rights somewhere else that he didn’t even have at home? His biggest enemy was white Christians who denied his rights, not the Vietcong. He had enough money to hire lawyers to get him cleared on this. But the boxing commission took his title away. Instead of just getting mad, he got back into training and won the title back a second time.
It’s no surprise that when my prejudices found real information instead of assumptions and stereotypes, they didn’t hold up. I hope when I get to heaven, if I get to meet Ali. I’ll tell him how sorry I am for the way I was and rejoice that God can bring all people together as His children.
For a good brief story on Muhammad Ali: