Muhammad Ali Did Not "Transcended" Race Or Religion
Start writing a post
Sports

Muhammad Ali Did Not "Transcended" Race Or Religion

How saying so actually erases his legacy

51
Muhammad Ali Did Not "Transcended" Race Or Religion

Here’s a word of unsolicited advice: you should question anyone who tells you Muhammad Ali transcended race—even if that anyone happens to be his daughter.

If they mean Ali was beloved by all, regardless of race, then I suppose he does now and did in his old age. When he was in his prime, he would have been insulted by the insinuation. In the 1960s and 1970s, to suggest that an athlete “transcended” race most likely meant that athlete was silent on it—and Muhammad Ali was not silent. He was not silent on race in speaking of his conscientious objection to being drafted for the Vietnam War, saying, “I got nothing against the Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger,” and, “No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of darker people the world over.” Nor was he silent on Islam when he explained why he changed his name: “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I didn’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name—it means ‘beloved of God’—and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me.”

Nor was Muhammad Ali beloved by all people. On Facebook posts by media outlets about Ali’s death on Friday, you can still find people calling him a draft dodger, some of whom accuse him of converting to Islam so he could avoid being drafted. Ali’s adherence to the Nation of Islam did not ingratiate him with America either; nor did it curry him favor with black Americans. It caused him to run counter to mainstream civil rights movements, such as those of largely Christian organizations led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his belief in the necessity of separate racial societies (his beliefs softened when he converted to Sunni Islam in 1975).

In Ali’s time, there were some who criticized him for his “arrogance”—as if one ought to expect a professional athlete, let alone a three-time boxing heavyweight champion (two-time at the time of this exchange), to be humble. Professional athletes believe they are among the best, if not the best, in the world at what they do, both as a matter of fact and of motivation. Recall that after Game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals, which the Cavaliers lost, putting Warriors at the brink of winning the championship, LeBron James, asked why he was still confident, said, “[…] I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world; it’s simple.” Should we have expected LeBron, or Ali in his time, to defer to others—especially when we sometimes use the same motivational tactics ourselves? I’m not so arrogant as to believe I’m the smartest student at Harvard—especially because I’ve proven nothing of the sort, inasmuch as such things are verifiable—but I’ll be damned if I believe I’m inferior to any of my peers. We use these motivational tools all the time, but when public figures use them, we deride them as arrogant, as classless.

In writing this, I don’t intend to suggest Muhammad Ali is a saint. I don’t intend to defend him for calling Ernie Terrell an “Uncle Tom” or for slapping him on live television for refusing to call by his Muslim name; or for calling Floyd Patterson an “Uncle Tom”; or for calling Joe Frazier an “Uncle Tom” (seeing a pattern?), a “dumb ugly gorilla,” and other insults. Ali would eventually say the name-calling was hype, and he never intended to hurt anyone; but that didn’t mitigate the damage his words did to his opponents personally and professionally. No, Muhammad Ali was not a saint; he was not everything to everyone; he was not universally admired.

And that’s exactly how we need to remember him.

Muhammad Ali was a complex man. He was unapologetically black and Muslim; he was brash and confident to the point of being seen as arrogant by some. He was so iconoclastic, and a man of such deep convictions, that he publicly refused to be drafted into the Army and lost his boxing license and heavyweight championship, was willing to go to jail rather than be drafted; and fought the government all the way to the Supreme Court. (Who actually thinks the Army would have put Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion of the world, on the front lines?) While it is popular now to say the Vietnam War was a mistake, Ali’s views did not endear him to many Americans.

Yes, today, Muhammad Ali is beloved and mourned by many people across racial and religious lines. But he did not try to “transcend” race or religion. How could he, when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali because “Cassius Clay” was a slave name? Saying Muhammad Ali “transcended” race and religion erases arguably the most important part of his legacy—more important than his prowess as a boxer—and it's an overly simplistic way to commemorate him.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Featured

What Your Car's Color Says About Your Personality

Your color choice speaks volumes. It doesn't just emit an image for the car, it also says something about your style and personality! It's a form of self-expression. Are you confident? Are you sophisticated? Are you easy-going? Are you outgoing? Are you practical? As you're reviewing car sites for your next car purchase, what color will you opt for? Find out what certain color choices says about you!

3439

When it comes to car shopping you likely have certain preferences, including what color it should be. Your color choice speaks volumes. It doesn't just emit an image for the car, it also says something about your style and personality! It's a form of self-expression. Are you confident? Are you sophisticated? Are you easy-going? Are you outgoing? Are you practical? As you're reviewing car sites for your next car purchase, what color will you opt for? Find out what certain color choices says about you!

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

30 Songs On My Back-To-School Playlist For Walks To And From Class

Headed back to in-person classes means you need a pretty banging playlist to power you through those walks to class.

23360
Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels

I don't know about you, but I start each day off with a one-mile walk to class. I have to have good tunes flowing through my ears during those 20 minutes, not to mention the walks between classes and the walks home. So, here is my 30 song playlist to get me through this almost unfamiliar concept we call walking to class.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Be Kind to Yourself: 8 Mental Health Tips to Try

One way you can improve your quality of life is to take care of your mental health. As a result, you'll feel less depressed and be able to enjoy spending time with friends and family more often. These mental health tips might be just what you need to forget about your problems.

17237

One way you can improve your quality of life is to take care of your mental health. As a result, you'll feel less depressed and be able to enjoy spending time with friends and family more often. These mental health tips might be just what you need to forget about your problems.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Should You Own An SUV If You Live In A Snowy state?

There are many reasons to own an SUV. If you live in a cold state or a rural area, you will see that owning an SUV is very important.

26163

The gas and oil prices are too high to run in a smaller vehicle. You are better off with an SUV for hauling cargo and driving larger loads around the town. In addition, owning an SUV is more comfortable and safe than driving a smaller vehicle.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Understanding Why Dog's Lick You

It is a natural instinct for dogs to lick

51773

Why do dogs lick?

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments