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Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali

Here’s some good news. Louisville International Airport in Kentucky, Muhammad Ali’s hometown, will be renamed the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer of all-time, a sport that has many features that readers may abhor. Airports are also great stains on the environment, with aircraft spewing tons of CO2 into the environment. But with those considerations noted, there was the long-distance runner of boxing, Ali, who became a symbol of resistance to the  war in Vietnam.  The observation made at the time was that Ali was at the pinnacle of his success in the ring and that boxing was one of the few places that a black man could defeat a white man and not risk death for his effort.

On April 28, 1967, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religion, Muslim, and had his heavyweight boxing title taken away. He said he would not go half-way around the world to kill people who had not insulted or degraded his race, and that observation must have earned him the ire of hordes of militant haters across the U.S. Ali said: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”

The controversy lasted decades after Ali won his case before the Supreme Court. In 2004, baseball pitcher Bob Feller, a World War II veteran and baseball hall of fame member said: “I object very strongly to Muhammad Ali being here to throw out the first pitch… [Ali] changed his name and changed his religion so he wouldn’t have to serve his country, and to me, that’s disgusting.”

Many criticized Ali for accepting the Medal of Freedom from warmonger George W. Bush in 2005. By then, Ali suffered from the ravages of Parkinson’s syndrome that may have been brought on by his years in the boxing ring. It is impossible to comment dispassionately about the circumstances of the award, or the state of the U.S. as a country already at war for four years (now almost 18 years). But when confronting war and racism during the Vietnam War, it was Muhammad Ali who stood just as immovable as he did against the ropes of a boxing ring and waited patiently for his opponents to run out of steam.

Ali’s support for Ronald Reagan in 1984, in what Ali categorized as a religious issue in public schools, is difficult to explain.

Like the baseball bat named after Ali’s hometown, whose airport now bears his name, Muhammad Ali was in it for the full 12 rounds, or nine innings in real life.

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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