Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali And The Gold Medal

If you have been paying attention to the news in the slightest over the last three days or so, you are aware that the professional boxing legend Muhammad Ali has died.

Earlier today, as I was looking through the comment sections of news stories about his death, I read a comment about how he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Hudson River. It seemed like a silly claim. This prompted me to do a little research on the subject.

Here is what I found.

The following is a passage from Ali’s 2004 autobiography, The Soul of a Butterfly:

“There comes a time in every person’s life when he has to choose the course his life will take. On my journey I have found that the path to self-discovery is the most liberating choice of all.

My Olympic gold medal meant so much to me. It was a symbol of what I had accomplished for myself and for my country. Although I still experienced some of the same racial discrimination that I always had, my spirits were so high that I thought all of that would change.

A Kentucky newspaper wrote that my gold medal was the greatest prize any Black boy ever brought home to Louisville. I was proud, but I remember thinking at the time, if any White boy ever brought back anything greater, I sure didn’t hear about it. It seemed that I had become Louisville’s Black “Great White Hope.” I expected my gold medal to achieve something greater for me. During my first few days home, it seemed to accomplish exactly what I hoped, but soon I had a rude awakening.

I was sure they were finally going to let me eat downtown. In those days almost every restaurant, hotel, and movie theater in Louisville and the entire South was either closed to Blacks, or had segregated sections. But I thought that my medal would open them up to me.

One day my friend Ronnie and I were riding our motor bikes around downtown Louisville, when it began to rain. We parked and walked into a little restaurant, where we sat down and ordered two cheeseburgers and two vanilla milk shakes.

I was so proud, sitting there with my gold medal around my neck. (I wore it everywhere in those days.) The waitress looked at both of us and said, “We don’t serve Negroes.”

I politely replied, “Well, we don’t eat them either.”

I told her I was Cassius Clay, the Olympic Champion. Ronnie pointed to my gold medal.

Then the waitress looked me over again and went to the back, to speak with the manager. Ronnie and I could see them huddled over, talking and looking back at us.

We were sure that now that they knew who I was we would be able to stay and eat, but when the waitress came back, she said that she was sorry, but we had to leave.

As Ronnie and I stood up and walked out of the door, my heart was pounding. I wanted my medal to mean something-the mayor had said it was the key to Louisville. It was supposed to mean freedom and equality. I wanted to tell them all that they should be ashamed. I wanted to tell them that this was supposed to be the land of the free. As I got up and walked out of that restaurant, I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking that

I just wanted America to be America.

I had won the gold medal for America, but I still couldn’t eat in this restaurant in my hometown, the town where they all knew my name, where I was born in General Hospital only a few blocks away. I couldn’t eat in the town where I was raised, where I went to church and led a Christian life. I still couldn’t eat in a restaurant in the town where I went to school and helped the nuns clean the school. Now I had won the gold medal.

But it didn’t mean anything, because I didn’t have the right color skin.

Ronnie wanted me to call one of the millionaires from my sponsoring group and tell them what happened, and I almost did, but more than anything, I wanted that medal to mean that I was my own man and would be respected and treated like any other human being. Then I realized that even if it had been my “Key to the City,” if it could get only me into the “White only” place, then what good was it? What about other Black people?

Later I realized that it was part of God’s plan for me that they wouldn’t serve me that day. Before I was kicked out of the restaurant, I was thinking what the medal could mean for me. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that if that medal didn’t mean equality for all, it didn’t mean anything at all.

What I remember most about 1960 was the first time I took my gold medal off. From that moment on, I have never placed great value on material things. What really matters is how you feel about yourself. If I had kept that medal I would have lost my pride.

Over the years I have told some people I had lost it, but no one ever found it. That’s because I lost it on purpose. The world should know the truth-it’s somewhere at the bottom of the Ohio River.”

There is dispute as to whether or not this story was merely apocryphal, as some reports claim that during his lifetime, Ali privately claimed to friends that the medal had merely been misplaced. This claim has been backed up by friends such as fellow boxer Bundini Brown, as well as Ali biographer Thomas Hauser.

Which story is true? We may never know. But you can be the judge. Do your own homework, and feel free to comment below!

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Thomas Leuthard/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Muhammad Ali And The History Of Public Courage In America

By Eric M. Harris

The most important date in Muhammad Ali’s life was April 28, 1967.

No this was not the date of one of his amazing bouts with the great “Smokin'” Joe Frazier, it was not the date of the “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman, it was not the day that he converted to Islam, nor the date he lit the Olympic Torch in Atlanta.

On this date, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the United States Army.

Muhammad Ali’s life is well chronicled.

He was born in Louisville in 1942.

He became a Gold Medal Winner in Boxing in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

He shocked the world in 1964 when he captured the world heavyweight boxing championship from Sonny Liston. His boxing career and life was off to a tremendous start.

Three short years later, his life took a drastic turn that showed courage on a level that has been unmatched by public figures in American history.

He was sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. He went into an unknown position of possibly not being able to box again all because he took a moral stand.

But he’s not the first to show massive amounts of public courage on the national stage.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female with a medical degree in the United States. She was able to get medical books from a local reverend when he was a young woman.

She was met with “No’s” at almost every possible opportunity.

Many physicians suggested that she move from the United States to Paris, because she would have better opportunities.

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Blackwell studied in secret. In 1847, she was brought in to study medicine at Geneva Medical College. She was voted in unanimously by all male students at the college and became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.

President Abraham Lincoln’s story is well known by most. He was the President during one of America’s most difficult times- the Civil War.

He had the courage to not only have the Union fight the Confederacy in the Civil War, but he also wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves.

Slavery had been an institution in this country for hundreds of years. It was the driving force for the economy in the South and made many southern plantation owners very wealthy.

Although many other elected officials and leaders said that slavery was wrong, he was the first to actually do what it took to end it.

Some have pointed out however, that Lincoln’s decision to free the slaves did not have as much to do with the actual freeing of the slaves, but more to do with keeping the Union together. Lincoln said so himself.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was another President during a challenging time in American history.

He was the president during the Great Depression and World War II. He was following in the foot steps of his distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt, who was one of the greatest presidents in our nation’s history.

Not to mention, he did all of this with a challenging disability, the disease of polio, which prevented him the use of his legs.

Read More: What Young People Can Learn From Muhammad Ali

Many people to this day do not know that while he was President, FDR did not have the use of his legs at all. He is a true inspiration to many, especially people with disabilities.

FDR had extreme courage to create new programs to help low income Americans in his New Deal program. He had to make difficult military decisions that would change the United States and the world forever.

Although his bravery is unquestioned, and the times might have made this difficult, he was not out front with his disability show others that disability is something that should be accepted and embraced.

FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Matt Wade/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Matt Wade/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

He also did not have the best relationships with people of color for no other reason than they were of another race.

Jackie Robinson is an example that can be used to show another athlete who had extreme courage. He was the first African-American to integrate professional team sports. Boxers had integrated professional sports, but this was the first time where an individual had joined a team sport that had been exclusively white.

To many, Jackie Robinson integrating baseball in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers was the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie was chosen by the Brooklyn Dodgers and Branch Rickey to be the single representative in that season and as someone who could take it after playing four sports at UCLA and being in the military.

As brave as that was for Robinson to do, in my opinion, he did not necessarily risk the way that Muhammad Ali did.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a strong progressive voice. She is a Democrat from California and has been in the House of Representatives since 1998.

One of the most powerful signs of courage was displayed by Congresswoman Lee in the Fall of 2001.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the United States Congress voted to give President authorization to use any force he sees as necessary and appropriate under the circumstances as a response for retaliation against the terrorists who killed thousands of American citizens.

Congresswoman Lee was the lone no vote in the House of Representatives.

She was shocked that she was the only no vote that day.

She talked about in later interviews that she received angry letters for years after her decision.

Photo Credit: Peter T/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: Peter T/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Previously, while in the California legislature, she was one of very few no votes against the Three Strikes Law, that puts people in prison for 25 years to life after a third felony conviction.

Many Californian’s lives have been destroyed because of this law. Congresswoman Lee has shown the courage to stand by her decisions even when she knows that she might be one of very few who feel a certain way.

She understands how important it is to represent her constituents in the beset way possible, regardless of how others might decide to represent theirs.

Now lets look at Muhammad Ali’s decision not to step forward to join the United States Army.

He famously said:

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother or some darker people or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what, they never called me Nigger, they never lynched me, they never put no dogs on me, they never robbed me of my nationality, they never raped my mother or father. What am I going to shoot them for what. How am I going to shoot them. They are little poor people women and children. How am I going to shoot them poor people, just take me to jail. If I’m going to die, I’ll die right here fighting you, if I’m going to die. You’re my enemy, my enemy is the white people, not the vietcong, or Chinese or Japanese. You’re my opposer when I want freedom. You’re my opposer when I want justice. You’re my opposed when I want equality, you won’t even stand up for me for my religious beliefs. You want me to go somewhere and fight but you won’t even stand up for me at home.”

Muhammad Ali had just won the Heavyweight Title of the World in Boxing, and had that title stripped from him.

It was the first time any boxer in history had had his boxing title stripped from them without losing it in the ring. Ali was 25 years old, in his athletic prime.

He had only been a boxer up to that point and had no realistic way of knowing how he would provide for himself.

He knew that he was potentially taking a chance where he might not be able to box ever again.

Ali knew that he was giving up years in his prime, while he was the heavyweight champion of the world. To put this in some context, this would be like if Steph Curry decided to leave basketball, go to jail for a political stance and not able to return to the sport.

Ali did all of this in the height of the Civil Rights era in the 1960s, a year before Martin Luther King was assassinated. His level of courage and pride stands above any public figure in American history.

Ali also knew that the backlash for this decision could be even more serious and drastic. After the statement, “I have no quarrel with those vietcong … No vietcong ever called me Nigger.” He saw millions around the country call him unpatriotic. This was only the beginning. Ali could not have known what the reaction would have been like with his fans and supporters, military veterans and supporters of the war and military throughout the country.

Ali could have moved on through life disliked by nearly everyone in his own country. He did not care.

He had already rubbed many the wrong way by joining the Nation of Islam. He rubbed his father and many in his family the wrong way by changing his name from Cassius Clay.

Ali showed another example of being able to make a difficult decision without caring about the possible repercussions, despite understanding what they could and likely would be. That is true courage.

Finally, it has been great to see so much support for an athlete that many, including myself look up to as a role model and a hero.

However, I find it interesting, because many of these same people coming out to support the Greatest now, will talk bad about outspoken athletes like Serena Williams, Floyd Mayweather and Lebron James when they make bold statements that are not as humble as many might like.

I understand that Muhammad Ali was a tremendous person and athlete that makes him different in many other’s eyes from the previous examples, but I hope we can give young superstar entertainers the benefit of the doubt the way many did with Ali as he was growing and becoming the greatest and letting us all know how great that was.

As we go through this election season, one can only hope that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump can show powerful elements of courage in their actions and stances moving forward.

I will hope for our country’s sake that they are not just in this game to get recognized, elected and then reelected. One would hope that the person holding the highest office in the land is doing so with the type of courage that the Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali showed on April 28, 1967.

There is not a single athlete, entertainer or elected official that I can think of who displayed more powerful courage in American history than Muhammad Ali on that date.

He impacted a generation of 20 and 30 somethings who did not even get a chance to see him fight live.

His story and passion resonated with all of us and I hope that his courage rubs off on an American society, which is in desperate need of some true courage in its leadership.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Elizabeth Blackwell/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What Young People Can Learn From Muhammad Ali

By Mashal Mirza

Is it the three heavyweight championship titles? Is it his leadership for the Nation of Islam? Is it his famous line, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee?”

Muhammad Ali demonstrates leadership in a multitude of ways.

His athleticism and character leaves an enormous mark on history. He inspires sportsmanship and standing up for what you believe in; he is an icon of physical and mental ability.

But here is what I think is Muhammad Ali’s greatest lesson is to people like myself, a twenty-first century American college student:

Muhammad Ali once said, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

Some may think this is extremely conceited.

I say that this phrase should be something we all embrace for our own individual journeys.

As a college student, you are always aware of someone who wants your dream and who is better than you: better grades, better resume, better recommendations. It’s easy to stop believing in yourself and your pursuit to achieve your goals when you begin to think that you’re not good enough.

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Here’s where Muhammad Ali comes in: his belief in himself and his capabilities is what lead him to be one of the greatest athletes of all time and a leader in a historical movement.

People say that he never gave up on his dreams. You know what? He never gave up on himself.

His confidence paved the way for his life, both inside and out of the boxing ring.

Without his self-assurance, he would have never achieved his status in the sports world and would have never spoken up for what he believed in.

Great leaders know they can change the world. It is that knowledge that allows them to push boundaries and create a revolution. It all begins in self worth.

Again, people may think that Muhammad Ali was arrogant. 

Yet he eventually knew his place in life: when addressing his disease, he once said, “God gave me Parkinson’s syndrome to show me I’m not ‘The Greatest’ – he is.”

His experience of battling with Parkinson’s humbled him, demonstrating that while he was aware of his abilities, he was also aware of where his abilities came from.

While Facebook statuses and Instagram posts are great ways to pay tribute to this phenomenal man, the best way, I believe, to honor Muhammad Ali is to look to his confidence.

His words are not just good for captions on photos- they are valuable lessons that can apply to everyone.

We could all learn a thing or two for someone who left such an impact on the world around him.

So today, look to Muhammad Ali for inspiration, because he was a man who made his dreams into a reality.

It all began with his belief in himself.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Gonzague Petit Trabal/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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