Thursday, February 26, 2004
Cassius Clay ---> Muhammad Ali
Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of Cassius Clay defeating Sonny Liston to become boxing's heavyweight champion. If my Ali history is correct, then that makes today the 40th anniversary of Cassius Clay publicly announcing his joining of the Nation of Islam and becoming known as Muhammad Ali. It wouldn't have meant much without winning the title, but in hindsight it is the event that now allows us to see Ali as an icon - something much greater than boxing or of sport. Feelings about the Nation of Islam aside, Ali's step into the civil rights controversies of the 1960's, his refusal to be drafted into the Army on the basis of his religious beliefs, and the faith he still carries with him today puts him into rarefied air. Some suggest his lifelong contribution is equaled only by Nelson Mandela, and most agree that the fact Ali was never assassinated is a miracle. For a time Ali was one of the most hated sports figures in American history, but attitudes toward Ali, just like attitudes towards Vietnam and our own country, quickly changed as we moved into the 1970's. Ali fought the good fight and proved he was untouchable - just like his fight against Sonny Liston.