This weekend, the Muhammad Ali Center awarded football great and courageous civil rights advocate Jim Brown and Bill Russell its Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award. But the real celebration was for Muhammad Ali himself, a giant now weakened by his three-decade struggle with Parkinson’s.
Ali was a champion in the ring. “I am the greatest,” he said, and he was telling the truth. He won his first heavyweight championship at the age of 22, a massive underdog against reigning champion Sonny Liston. He said he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” and so he did. And later, as age diminished his speed, he showed a remarkable capacity to take a punch, even inventing what was called the “rope-a-dope” strategy against George Foreman. He is recognized as the greatest fighter of his generation, and along with Joe Louis, of all time.
But Ali was more than a remarkable champion in the ring; he became a hero outside the ring. He stood up to assert his rights and used his prominence to fight for religious freedom and racial justice. He stood on principle against the fury of the crowd — and sacrificed enormously for his beliefs.
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