Muhammad Ali was a beautiful athlete, and as a man of unshakeable principle.
He fought many battles some created for him in the ring, others he did not want but were foisted upon him. If any of his fights called for him to summon all his strength and best boxing skills none matched the reserves of courage he needed to fight the American establishment, a torrent of accusations of cowardice from press and sections of the public, and the feverish US army enthusiasm to wipe out millions of Vietnamese.
He was drafted in 1966 but refused to answer his name or take the oath at his induction in 1967. This led to his arrest and conviction, later overturned on appeal by the US Supreme Court. Here are his reasons for refusing the draft for which he was sentenced to five years imprisonment and stripped of his boxing titles.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.
This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.
I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…
If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to twentytwo million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah.
I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs.
So, I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”
Muhammad Ali returned to the ring, regained his World Championship, fighting his final battle valiantly for decades against the degenerative illness of Parkinson’s disease, dying this day, aged 74.
Battles are rarely won by a multitude, but by one individual standing up to the multitude.