Muhammad Ali

 

Boxing_light-heavyweight_1960_Olympics

Muhammad Ali, 1960 light-heavyweight Olympic boxing champion first published in the Republic of Poland courtesy Wikimedia creative commons

Philadelphia, PA is home to several major sports teams: basketball, 76ers; hockey, Flyers; baseball, Phillies; football, Eagles.

Many of the players live across the Delaware River in Cherry Hill, NJ, a town that in the 1960s claimed the biggest star of all—Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight boxing champion.

Our family lived in another section of Cherry Hill. We bought our gas at an ARCO station—a neighborhood hub.

While my husband sat glued to Ali’s matches, I observed that the champion  was also a poet who wrote, “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

One time when I bought gas I saw a sign over the cash register that read, No more credit for Ali until he pays his bill. In the midst of raising five children and juggling bills to make the mortgage payments, my respect for Ali plummeted.

How shortsighted. Ali, one of the greatest sports figures in history, was a leader in promoting racial justice and religious freedom. Protesting the Vietnam war, he refused a draft into the military, claiming conscientious objector status. The government convicted him of draft evasion, stripped him of his boxing title, and placed him under arrest. He didn’t fight again for four valuable years of his youth.

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

Always provocative and entertaining in public, Ali brought respect to African-American athletes as he embraced racial pride. Writer Joyce Carol Oates stated that he completely defined the terms of his public reputation.

People who are larger than life have more on their minds than the latest bill. I expect someone pays them eventually. The sign at the gas station came down.

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