People Who Kick Buts: Muhammad Ali
I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
- Born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Considered a cultural icon, Ali was both idolized and vilified
- Originally known as Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975, and more recently practicing Sufism.
- In 1967, three years after Ali had won the World Heavyweight Championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali stated, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong… No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” – one of the more telling remarks of the era.
- Widespread protests against the Vietnam War had not yet begun, but with that one phrase, Ali articulated the reason to oppose the war for a generation of young Americans, and his words served as a touchstone for the racial and antiwar upheavals that would rock the 1960s. Ali’s example inspired Martin Luther King Jr. – who had been reluctant to alienate the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda – to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time.
- Ali would go on to become the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion.
- The younger of two boys, he was named after his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., who was named after the 19th century abolitionist and politician of the same name. His father painted billboards and signs, and his mother, Odessa O’Grady Clay, was a household domestic.
- Clay was first directed toward boxing by the white Louisville police officer and boxing coach Joe E. Martin, who encountered the 12-year-old fuming over a thief taking his bicycle. He told the officer he was going to “whup” the thief. The officer told him he better learn how to box first.
- Ali states in his 1975 autobiography that he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service at a ‘whites-only’ restaurant, and fighting with a white gang.
- Muhammad Ali has been married four times and has seven daughters and two sons.
- The Muhammad Ali Effect is a term used in psychology that was named after him when he stated, “I only said I was the greatest, not the smartest” in his autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story. According to this effect, when people are asked to rate their intelligence and moral behavior in comparison to others, people will rate themselves as more moral, but not more intelligent than others