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The importance of Muhammad Ali in modern American culture

Muhammad Ali

“The man who sees the world the same way at 50, as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life”. These were the words of Muhammad Ali and that quote alone, in my opinion, sums up his views on life and the world in its entirety.

For modern American culture Ali was of paramount importance. He was a Negro American who had potential to be respected by white people. He was indeed, the “all American boy, if he was white”, as described by Malcolm X.

Ali came along at a time when Negro Americans were discovering who they were, he ushered in the attitude of black is beautiful. He uplifted the morale of an entire race of people every time he approached a camera and said “I’m pretty”.

Ali was from a different generation. He possessed a different mindset to other Negro men at the time. Cassius Clay was his birth name before converting to Islam while simultaneously parting himself from his black slave name.

At the time, he was hated by the vast majority of the blue collar, white Americans who were not accustomed to seeing a black man boast and have such a charismatic and confident persona. Even some older generations of Negro Americans disagreed in the manner Ali carried himself; they thought he should be more humble.

However, Ali was a whole new breed of athlete and the younger generations of both black and white men began to accept and eventually adore this tenacious fighter. He paved a path for many Americans to become more liberal in their views and attitude towards all aspects of life.

Ali evoked emotions inside people, emotions that some people didn’t even realise they were capable of. He stood up for himself; he stood up for a race against a partially racist nation. Through this, he revolutionised American culture forever.

Ali was an outstanding boxer and at the age of only 18 he won a gold medal in the Rome Olympics in 1960, which was one of his proudest moments. Suddenly however, he was to suffer one of his lowest ebbs only days later. On his homecoming to Louisville, Kentucky he was denied entry to a restaurant.

An American gold-medallist Olympian refused entry to a local eatery purely because of his skin colour. This act revealed the severity of the racist actions in certain parts of the U.S.A. It was a vulgar act towards a hero of their nation. This was the hardship Ali had to endure throughout his life.

Ali was openly critical of the treatment of his fellow Negro Americans and following on from his publicised discrimination and other reported cases of racial discrimination Ali threw his prized possession, his Olympic gold medal, into the Ohio River. These symbolic actions made Americans nationwide sit up and take notice of his methods of protest.

Ali wasn’t just another Negro preacher; this boxing hero hailing from Kentucky was something far more iconic. He was special, both in the sporting and political world. Ali had endless courage, determination and energy and he used these characteristics as a protagonist to attempt to change American culture.

Muhammad Ali was not only a boxer, he was a revolutionary human. Ali was his own. Malcolm X left the nation of Islam but Ali did not follow his departure. He was a leader not a follower and throughout many heart felt speeches it was clear he wore his heart on his sleeve, in many circumstances.

He showed America he was his own man by taking one of the most memorable stances in American history by refusing to be drafted and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision made him both the most beloved and hated athlete of that era, and arguably of all time.

Ali defended his actions by stating “Why would I go to Vietnam, no Vietcong never called me a nigger” and also, “I will not go 10,000 miles to murder and kill for people to continue to enslave the black people”. Ali refused to travel on the grounds of war being against his religion as he was a practicing Muslim minister.

When one talks of Muhammad Ali, one cannot confine themselves to talking about sport. Yes, he was probably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time but he was also called to bring about a change regards the racial discrimination Negro Americans were being subjected to. His anti-war stance resulted in his boxing licences being revoked.

He was stripped of his world title he won in 1964 on beating Sonny Liston and with this; Ali also had his passport confiscated by government officials. Ali fought two legal battles in the Supreme Court while at the same time having two whole years of boxing in the prime stage of his career ruthlessly taken away.

However, Ali was not afraid or deterred by this and it was this attitude which empowered many Negro Americans across the nation, while simultaneously making an everlasting impacting on American culture. Once all of his court cases were settled in one way or another Ali made a swift return to the boxing ring.

Sadly, his reflexes, power and speed would never match the levels he possessed in his prime. Ali was no longer able to taunt opponents and show such confidence in his graceful and powerful boxing techniques metaphorically comparing himself to being able to, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”.

Before retiring from professional boxing in 1979 at the age of 38, Ali partook in world renowned fights such as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ and ‘The Thrilla in Manila’ where Ali defeated George Forman and Joe Fraizer, respectively. On his retirement from boxing, Ali now had more time to devote his attention to other topics he was just as passionate about. It would be a while yet before Muhammad Ali stepped out of the public eye.

Ali became heavily involved in politics, even more so than when he was juggling it with a professional boxing career. He supported Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1980 and worked for the release of four US hostages captured in Lebanon. Tragically though, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and so finally, Muhammad Ali would have to bow out of the political world after making such a profound impact on American society

Ali was an inspiration to many Americans, regardless of colour or creed. He inspired athletes in sport to train to the edge of breaking point and then train some more, in order to achieve the best possible results. He inspired politicians and activists to never be afraid to voice their opinions and stand up against the unjust actions of a nation. He inspired a whole race of young Negro Americans to not fear society.

They no longer had to accept racial discrimination; they now were becoming brave enough to stand up against oppression and not see it as a way of life. They now had motivation for change. They now had an overwhelming hunger for change.

It was Ali’s never say die attitude that made this boxing legend become an iconic American figurehead of change. Ali could now be recognised as the ‘all American boy’, even if he was a Negro. He paved the way for a diverse American future, a liberal welcoming future.

Undoubtedly, his impact on American culture was revolutionary. He certainly won a battle for change in modern American culture, but the war still continues, even if it is not as heavily publicised today.

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