Named “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by BBC, Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), 3-time world heavyweight boxing champion and world statesman, passed away Friday, June 3, 2016 at 74. RIP Champ! As we humbly honor your soul of a Monarch butterfly (as you spoke about to students graduating at Harvard in 1974, wishing people could love one another as much as we loved him) and your sting of a bumble bee (as a conscientious objector) worldwide here on #beBee!
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali leaves behind four wives he loved and nine children, seven daughters and two sons, he adored, who surrounded him as he passed away Friday night.
Muhammad Ali was gifted at making himself a point of interest by people around the world. He made a sensational show out of a sporting event that for the first time made it permissible for athletes after him to speak out openly on social, education, religious, economic and political issues in life. How his freedom of speech fundamentally shaped his legacy as an athlete-statesman on peace and inclusion is specifically addressed herein.
Watch and listen to the simplicity this side of the complexity of the great mind of The Greatest, Mohammad Ali that eloquently frames his phenomenal statesmanship on peace and inclusion in this remarkable answer to a young lads question on British live television in 1974.
“I Float Like A BUTTERFLY and Sting Like A BEE!” For Always & Forever, He’s #TheGreatest #RIPMuhammadAli (1942-2016)
Pictured above is his iconic knockdown punch in the first round against then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida. His ultimate victory over Liston here was widely seen as a stunning upset that earned Muhammad Ali (then just a 22 year old Light Heavyweight Boxing 1960 Rome Olympics Gold-Medalist, Cassius Clay) his first world heavyweight boxing title.
He was the greatest boxer ever, but his greatest bouts were outside the boxing ring.
A World-Class Athlete Thrusted Into Being A World-Class Statesman on Peace and Inclusion
On March 22, 1967, Ali was stripped of all of his boxing championship titles by the New York State Athletic Commission and all other boxing commissions, and he received a suspension of his boxing license by the state of New York.
Three years after gaining his championship, as a social conscientious objector on April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali in Houston, Texas three times immediately refused induction into the United States Army and the Vietnam War. Outspoken Ali was publicly tried in a court tribunal, convicted on a felony charge of draft evasion on June 20, 1967, receiving a mandatory sentenced of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He paid a bond and remained free from prison, as his felony conviction was being appealed through appellate court, and eventually to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Afterwards, Ali was prohibited from securing a boxing license to participate in the sport in any state for the next three years, including having his passport evoked so the world champion boxer could not travel abroad and continue his boxing career and personal livelihood he had been accustomed to at that time.
During this time also, as public opinion turned against the Vietnam War in 1967 (in the wake of the federalized 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act), Ali’s appeal to the lower appellate court was denied. A much sought after national and international advocate and spokesman, he spoke on college and university campus across the world, criticizing the Vietnam War and advocating African American pride in civil rights, and the great ideas of equality, racial justice, peace and inclusion.
In a stunning decision on June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned his June 20, 1967 felony conviction of draft evasion and upheld Ali’s conscientious objector exemption on April 28, 1967 in his refusal to enter the armed services and participate in the Vietnam War of which he was publicly protesting against, explosively exclaiming at that time, “No Vietcong ever called me (The N-word),” a constitutional freedom of speech statement that costed Ali dearly at about $40 million over his three years away from boxing, both personally and professionally. Financially broke during this period, one time riding in a car with Joe Frazier the fighter actually lent Ali a couple hundred bucks so he could just feed himself.
He was a man of principle on peace and inclusion, yet remarkably, public opinion was strongly against him.
Be that as it may, the U.S. Supreme Court saw this by overturning his conviction in an unanimous 8-0 ruling (with Justice Thurgood Marshall electing to abstain from the case).
Immediately thrusted into the public eye now as statesman, Muhammad Ali also inspired civil rights peace activist turned anti-war activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Laureate, who had been “reluctant to address the Vietnam War for fear of alienating the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda.” After Ali’s public profile in courage, “King began to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time,” (quotes courtesy of Wikipedia).
This subsequently ignited the most explosive period of social violence and unrest ever displayed in American history in the 1968 shooting deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 just after 6pm ET on that second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Just a couple months later that year on June 5, 1968 at Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, 1968 democratic U.S. presidential candidate, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy was mortally wounded by gun shoots at 12:15am PT, and later died in Los Angeles Good Samaritan Hospital at 1:44am PT, June 6, 1968.
In speaking of the cost on Ali’s career (between his most powerfully athletic ages of 25 to 28) of his refusal to be drafted, his boxing trainer Angelo Dundee said, “One thing must be taken into account when talking about Ali, he was robbed of his best years, his prime years.” (quote courtesy of Wikipedia).
Three Epic Boxing Battles of Coronations and Comebacks
Ali is known the world over as #TheGreatest for these iconic boxing exhibitions. First, there was his greatest upset fight against Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami, Florida, which he earned a surprising defeat over Liston for his first title as world heavyweight champion.
Later, there were three battles with rival Joe Frazier. The first fight, held at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Monday, March 8, 1971, was dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” mainly because it brought to the global sporting stage two undisputed world heavyweight undefeated boxing champion sports icons, each claiming their legitimate claim to be crowned the single undisputed heavyweight boxing champion. A phenomenal media sensation at the time, this Rocky-like global spectacle sporting event of Olympiad proportions was broadcast to 35 countries around the world.
Underscoring the epic battle in the boxing ring was an ongoing explosive American domestic agenda of social injustice, class warfare, and race. This revealed in particular how blacks and “black-pride” socially, educationally, economically, and politically shaped ourselves as an evolving black community at the dawn of the seventies. Such evolutionary societal change was demanded by blacks just coming off an emotionally-wrenching King-Kennedy dual assassination and its aftermath of brutally destructive riots across the American social fabric in 1968.
Symbolically, Ali portrayed Frazier as a “dumb tool of the white establishment … Frazier is too ugly to be champ,” Ali said. “Frazier is too dumb to be champ.” Ali also frequently insulted Frazier by calling him an Uncle Tom. Dave Wolf, who worked in Frazier’s camp, recalled that, “Ali was saying ‘the only people rooting for Joe Frazier are white people in suits, Alabama sheriffs, and members of the Ku Klux Klan. I’m fighting for the little man in the ghetto.’ Joe was sitting there, smashing his fist into the palm of his hand, saying, ‘What the f**k does he know about the ghetto?'”
After an epic 15-round brutal beating of both Ali and Frazier, Ali lost to Frazier by unanimous decision by the judges, his first professional defeat.
It is in fact 45 years ago March 8, 1971 that the sports history-making #MuhammadAli vs. #JoeFrazier bout (shown above) was dubbed “The Fight of the Century” in a 15-round showdown!
Here’s whereupon the rivalry between the iconic boxers began. “Ali’s characterizations of Frazier during the lead-up to the fight cemented a personal animosity towards Ali by Frazier that lasted until Frazier’s death. Frazier and his camp always considered Ali’s words cruel and unfair, far beyond what was necessary to sell tickets. Shortly after the bout, in the studios of ABC’s Wide World of Sports during a nationally televised interview with the two boxers (with iconic Howard Cozell), Frazier rose from his chair and wrestled Ali to the floor after Ali called him ignorant,” according to Wikipedia.
Subsequently, a second Ali-Frazier rematch at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974, resulted in an unanimous decision for Ali recapturing his undisputed heavyweight boxing title from Joe Frazier—who had recently lost his undisputed heavyweight boxing belt to a huge younger 1968 Olympian Gold-Medalist “Big George” Foreman.
Dubbed as a “Rumble in the Jungle, Ali at 32 years old was considered extremely outmatched by the imposing figure of George Foreman, who was then a much younger opponent than Ali by ten years. After earlier in the year defeating Joe Frazier, Ali went on to defeat George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974 in a stunning upset strategy he used in the bout called “Rope-A-Dope.”
Ali was wildly popular in Zaire, with crowds chanting “Ali, bomaye” (“Ali, kill him”) wherever he went in the African nation, which cemented his iconic global status as a world-class athlete-statesman.
Ali worked the media, like a magician and a poet, as he waved the rhyme and rhythm of his magical prose to English interviewer David Frost, “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind!”
He further crafted his impromptu poetry, like Miles Davis’ jazz improvisatio, across the world media, “I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
The “Rope-A-Dope” strategy was simply a brilliant militarist strategic approach used by Ali inside the formidable Foreman boxing ring.
Such a strategic approach is when your opponent is angry, irritate them, when you’re physically outmatched, evade them, and when you’re overwhelmingly outgunned, leave them, and live to fight another day.
Ali laid on the ropes, resting much of the match, and tiring the more aggressive Foreman, swinging endlessly at Ali and pounding damaging body blows, but not critical knockout punches to Ali’s “pretty face,” as he oftentimes referenced in the media about himself. Ali simply covered up and counter-punched, landing judges’ point-mounting blows on Foreman—as he also hugged him often to rest and verbally taunt Foreman, messing with his head and actually psyching him out of the bout.
“Is that all you got, George? They told me you could hit,” Ali verbally abused into Foreman’s head in the game.
By an eighth round, Ali had exhausted Foreman with a flurry of blows causing Foreman to stagger to the floor of the center ring, as he couldn’t rise to his feet again when the referee finished his countdown. Against the odds, the “Rumble in the Jungle” was over and Ali had regained his third heavyweight boxing title by knockout.
Reflecting on Ali’s brilliant strategy in the epic battle, George Foreman poignantly and humbly said: “I’ll admit it. Muhammad outthought me and outfought me.”
Ali not only had regained his third world heavyweight boxing championship, but also finally got fully recrowned his previous boxing titles that were stripped seven years before as a result of his 1967 conscientious objector and subsequently overturned felony conviction on draft evasion by the highest legal court in the land. But just as important, Ali favorably captured the global court of public opinion that now saw Ali as a world-class athlete-statesman of peace and inclusion.
The following year, Ali agreed to a third rematch bout with rival Joe Frazier in Manila, the capital city of The Philippines. The bout, known as the “Thrilla in Manila”, was held on October 1, 1975 in temperatures approaching 100 °F (38 °C). The intense Southeast Asia heat made the pounding by each of these much older boxing rivals extremely brutal to a point of near death for each of these longstanding stellar athletes.
Emotionally-wrenching to watch for millions of viewers around the world, the brutal fight, going down the stretch through 14 brutal rounds, as each competitor tore into each other, never succumbing to the other in the name of history, “was eventually stopped, when Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, refused to allow Frazier to answer the bell for the 15th and final round, despite Frazier’s protests. Frazier’s eyes were both swollen shut. Ali, in his corner, winner by a technical knockout (TKO), slumped on his stool, morbidly exhausted,” Wikipedia summarizes.
Ali had retained his third heavyweight boxing championship, a triple-crown title held until he retired.
Both boxing Titans later required extensive hospitalization, exhibiting the magnitude of the beating each of these rivals gave each other in the “Thrilla in Manila” on October 1, 1975.
After this bout Ali called Frazier “the greatest fighter of all times, next to me.”
This epic boxing battle of Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier, just two years later had inspired actor Sylvester Stallone to create the groundbreaking dramatic intensity of the boxing scenes in the enormously popular Oscar-winning film, Rocky in 1977, which was not previously achieved in cinematic portrayals of boxing matches in the ring.
Athlete-Statesman Muhammad Ali’s Conscientious Objector Legacy of Peace and Inclusion
So, here we are today reflecting on what a world-class athlete-statesman has left us upon his passing, as we look at ourselves through his mirror – more distrusting of others, and more closeted in our views.
For Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objector profile in courage to work today, we must allow ourselves in the age demography shift and heightened engagement on rapid-fire digital communication devices to discuss our true feelings and biases, and not be chastised for what we believe.
We must evolve as a society where we can relegate those who harbor views of what can be described as racist, to the commonly viewed and reasonable point of distaste or disdain.
Yet, along the way on the course to this new destination of societal norms and conventions, Ali’s legacy compels us to ask ourselves what have we done to understand why we feel this way?
Has diversity divided us into divisiveness to mask us away from the real problems in social injustice, equality, racial tension, peace and inclusion we see when we face the nation inside Ali’s mirror?
According to Scientific American on September 16, 2014 (later edited October 1, 2014), “The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.”
What has a world-class athlete-statesman’s conscientious objector polemic on freedom, diversity and inclusion, accomplished by Muhammad Ali in the late 1960s through the 1970s, that has nowadays truly permeated across the social fabric in an age now generationally dominated by Millennials?
Ali’s magically poetic polemic today would perhaps pose that America is suffering inside its biggest bubble ready to explode.
If we don’t focus our attention on the most immediate concerns of building roads and bridges to schools and hospitals that need rehabilitation and healing, then the country may become “technically bankrupted” for our children and grandchildren.
Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection poignantly would ask why aren’t we still not quite truly diverse in our boardrooms, in our C-suites, in our colleges and university leadership and faculty ranks, and in our highest ranking public-sector and private-sector charitable institutions or other bastions of real power and influence.
With all of the time, infrastructure and resources allocated to making us all more accepting of our differences, here we are reflecting upon Muhammad Ali’s legacy upon us 16 years after the start of the millennium with racial tensions, LGBT issues, women’s rights, pay equity, economic disparities, political divisiveness, voting rights and civil rights dominating our daily lives. There seems to be a rising plethora of racially-charged incidents of late coming from multiple segments of our society.
A Harvard Business Review blog argues that diversity training can promote prejudice.
“Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it,” the prestigious college periodical cites.
The blog, citing a study of 829 companies over 31 years, showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.
It gets worse. The researchers — Frank Dobbin of Harvard, Alexandra Kalev of Berkeley, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota — concluded that “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity.”
The solution proposed by the Harvard Business Review for the divisiveness of diversity initiatives is rather than engaging people through the lens of race, gender, age, heritage, religion, disability, sexual orientation and parenting, we need to engage people as people.
This kind of engagement of people is what the conscientious objector Mohammad Ali pledged as an athlete-statesman in principle.
“Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity. It’s too conceptual, and it doesn’t work,” says the Harvard Business Review. “Instead, train (people) to do their work with a diverse set of individuals. Not categories of people. [Just as] People.”
Mohammed Ali actually engaged in difficult conversations with a global public during the turbulent late 1960s and seventies.
“Teach (people) how to have difficult conversations with a range of individuals. Teach (people) how to manage the variety of employees who report to them. Teach (people) how to develop the skills of their various employees,” argues the Harvard Business Review.
“Move beyond similarity and diversity to individuality.”
Athlete-statesman Muhammad Ali was definitely one of a kind. He was indeed about individuality and that was his true freedom to be just as the people who loved him around the world.
At its core, “diversity”, as it is used in relation to the workplace, is a divisive and rather weird concept, reports The Guardian (U.K.). “In claiming certain groups into its fold, it suggests that some people are “diverse” and some are “not diverse”. It suggests, in other words, a nucleus of normal and goes about classifying everyone off-centre into check-box categories that can be totted [or totaled] up and turned into tables for the annual report.”
“What’s more, definitions of diversity tend to be skin-deep, about differences you can see […],” The Guardian (U.K.) concludes.
Photo Credit: Muhammad Ali hugs U.S. President George W. Bush (above), in a White House Ceremony in 2005, awarding Statesman #Ali, who “defined the terms of his public reputation,” as a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, both in 2005.
It appears that whenever a high profile and potentially racially divisive incident occurs, the battle lines are drawn. Even if the incident or issue (albeit health, human services, housing, education, energy, sports, entertainment or environment) itself has nothing to do with race, it quickly turns into a racial issue, when racial stereotypes surrounding those involved come into play.
We all tend to speak over each other and not with each other so fast nowadays in which conventional wisdom spreads with such exponential virility, like a brush fire, that no containment or quarantine of information, knowledge or understanding is possible.
We have seen countless instances that demonstrate that we are much less tolerant of others, much more outspoken in our politically incorrect views, and with very little to show for all of the dollars spent on conferences and programs aimed at making us more diverse and more racial and gender tolerant.
Take the explosive case of Paula Dean. She honestly answered a question that was asked of her. Yet, she was slaughtered in the press alongside her food empire being attacked. Blacks surprisingly came to her defense. For them, what she said and did was troubling of course. But also blacks see in her own, southern charming way, this woman, who grew up in the height of racial segregation, simply told the truth. Some could say she was too naïve to know better. However, her naivety is what endears her to us. She admitted what she said and felt. Since then, she has taken steps to face her inbred prejudices.
Contrast the case of Paula Dean’s comments, to what takes place in corporate offices, where discussions about the racial makeup of the leadership teams surely take place.
Some would say, “We have become a very diverse nation and diversity, due to its very nature, breeds disagreement. People have always had trouble getting along with each other, but in our day we find ourselves in a divided country.”
In part, “we are a nation divided because of two things which are mutually exclusive – liberty and government. While some people seek a government that passes binding laws that infringe on personal freedom, others seek a more libertarian form of government. While one group sees the government as the solution to our problems, another sees it as the cause of our problems,” some would add.
Yes, America, we have a long way to go before we truly accept each other and our differences so as “to run so as to win,” much as Muhammad Ali did (in his foggy morning training photo below). We need to learn how to fully appreciate the rainbow of colors, ideas, lifestyles and philosophies in each other. We must learn not to judge others, because they hold views and opinions quite dissimilar to ours. It is only then will we be a society that truly appreciates our differences, and values those perspectives that we all have.
Our long and winding road across our risky and uncertain world is no longer the same without the conscientious objection spirit and voice of peace and inclusion from The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, leading among us.
Oliver G. McGee III is a teacher, a researcher, an administrator, and an advisor to government, corporations and philanthropy. He is professor of mechanical engineering and former Vice President for Research and Compliance at Howard University. Dr. McGee is former Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Inc. He was Professor and former Chair (2001-2005) of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Geodetic Science at Ohio State University. He is the first African-American to hold a professorship and a departmental chair leadership in the century-and-a-quarter history of Ohio State University’s engineering college. Dr. McGee has also held several professorships and research positions at Georgia Tech and MIT.
McGee is the former United States (U.S.) Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Technology Policy (1999-2001) at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and former Senior Policy Advisor (1997-1999) in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He is a NASDAQ certified graduate of UCLA John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management’s 2013 Director Education and Certification Program, and NYSE Governance Services Guide to Corporate Board Education’s 2003 Directors’ Consortium (on corporate board governance).
McGee is a 2012-13 American Council on Education Fellow at UCLA Office of the Chancellor Gene Block. He is a 2013 University of California Berkeley Institutes on Higher Education (BIHE) graduate. He is also an Executive Leadership Academy Fellow of the University of California, Berkeley Center of Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), Inc. McGee is an American Association of State Colleges & Universities’ (AASCU) Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI) Fellow – educational leadership and management development programs for prospective university chancellors and presidents.
Education Background: Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Civil Engineering, University of Arizona, Masters of Science (M.S.) in Civil Engineering, University of Arizona, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Engineering Mechanics, Aerospace Engineering (Minor), The University of Chicago, Booth School, Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.), The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Certificate of Professional Development (C.P.D.), Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy – Certificate of Fund Raising Management (C.F.R.M.).
Partnership Possibilities for America – Invested in STEEP Giving Forward, founded by McGee in 2010, is based in Washington, DC.
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