Muhammad Ali, and why he mattered In this Feb. 18, 1964, file photo, boxer Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay at the time, beats his chest in triumph after toppling Britain's Beatles at his training camp in Miami Beach, Fla. The Beatles, left to right: Paul McCartney; John Lennon; George Harrison and Ringo Starr, were on Holiday in the resort after their American tour. (AP Photo/File/Michael Probst)
Muhammad Ali, and why he mattered
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The Beatles' first visit to the United States was in 1964. Clever publicity agents arranged a meeting for the band with Cassius Clay. He was training for the bout that would make him heavyweight boxing champion. The result was a memorable photo of a whooping Clay, standing astride four "knockout victims."  Clay, of course, later changed his name. He became Muhammad Ali.
 
The Beatles and Ali were two emerging cultural forces beginning their path to global fame.
 
But as popular as the Beatles became, it was Ali who went on to become the most recognized person in the world. That picture was among the first to show him growing into that persona. He would take his place alongside the major cultural, political and entertainment figures of the era. Ali died June 3 at age 74.
 
For a generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Ali was far more than a boxer. His identity blended boundaries. He was an entertainer. He was a man at the center of swirling political and cultural change. He was a hero -- and a villain -- to many for his brash self-assuredness. 
 
"Part of Muhammad's greatness was his ability to be different things to different people," retired basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote on Facebook.
 
"To sports fans he was an unparalleled champion of the world, faster and smarter than any heavyweight before. To athletes, he was a model of physical perfection and shrewd business acumen. To the anti-establishment youth of the 1960s, he was a defiant voice against the Vietnam War and the draft. To the Muslim community, he was a pious pioneer testing America's purported religious tolerance. To the African-American community, he was a black man who faced overwhelming bigotry the way he faced every opponent in the ring: fearlessly."
 
The stoic generation that had fought World War II returned home to raise children who became defined by rebelliousness, impatience and an unwillingness to accept things the way they were. Few people embodied that spirit quite like Ali.
 
To his job, he brought a joy and brutal efficiency. Ali didn't just beat opponents. He predicted which round he'd deliver the whuppin'. He spouted poetry while mugging for the camera.
 
Ali talked trash before the phrase was even invented. "This might shock and amaze ya, but I'm going to destroy Joe Frazier," he said. Much of it was good-natured, although his battles with Frazier later became ugly and personal.
 
Ali wasn't simply a loudmouth. He delivered on the promises. He was like Michael Jordan became in another era. Ali was an athlete whose excellence could be appreciated by close and casual followers of his sport. But even Jordan, at the height of his fame, couldn't reach the profile that Ali did.
 
Outside the ring, the court fight over Ali's refusal to fight in the Vietnam War cost him three years at the peak of his career. But it earned him respect among the growing number of people turning against the war. His conversion to Islam, with his abandonment of the birth name Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., tested the deepness of Americans' support for religious freedom.
 
It all made Ali the subject of countless arguments. Everyone took sides when Ali returned from his suspension for refusing to join the military. Whether or not you rooted for Ali often had little to do with boxing.
 
And think of it. When's the last time you argued with anyone about a heavyweight championship boxing match?
 
Ali became one of the most recognizable people on Earth.
 
"One of the reasons the civil rights movement went forward was that black people were able to overcome their fear," HBO host Bryant Gumbel told Ali biographer Thomas Hauser. "And I honestly believe that, for many black Americans, that came from watching Muhammad Ali. He simply refused to be afraid. And being that way, he gave other people courage."
 
Ali's transcendent force -- his comic bravado, physical beauty and insistence on being the master of his own story -- made him the athlete most favored by singers, intellectuals, filmmakers and other artists and entertainers. He socialized with Sam Cooke, Norman Mailer and George Plimpton. Ali's verbal sparring with sportscaster Howard Cosell helped make the latter's career. When Ali traveled to Zaire in 1974 for his "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman, he was joined by James Brown, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba and other top musicians.
 
His legacy is captured in songs and prose that span decades. Author David Maraniss wrote about Ali in "Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World."  Maraniss called him a "gift to writers because he offered so many themes. Bravery. Pride. Humor. Blackness. Universality.
 
"He was complex and contradictory yet simple and clear in what he said and what he represented," Maraniss told the AP.
 
Ali's fight against Foreman, and the odd conditions under which it was fought, became the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary. It was titled, "When We Were Kings." In 2001, actor Will Smith starred in a Hollywood story of the boxer's life, "Ali."
 
Ali inspired songs from around the world. John Lennon borrowed Ali's "I'm the Greatest" catchphrase. The Beatle used it for a song that he gave to Ringo Starr. The 1977 biopic "The Greatest" was soon forgotten. But not the theme song later immortalized by Whitney Houston, "The Greatest Love of All." Rappers Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Common and Will Smith referenced Ali in their lyrics.
 
Parkinson's disease quieted the man himself in his later years. The reception given to a halting Ali as he lit the Olympic torch in Atlanta in 1996 made it clear he had made the transition from a polarizing to a beloved figure.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How did Muhammad Ali transcend sports?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (76)
  • bostonb-qui
    6/10/2016 - 01:36 p.m.

    Why was a person a hero and a villain?

  • evanterrell-bak
    6/14/2016 - 05:38 a.m.

    poor guy I wanted to meet him atleast he was a muslim

  • ben0424-yyca-byo
    6/16/2016 - 02:50 p.m.

    Muhammad Ali was an amazing person. Many people thought of him negatively when he refused to join the army. But, it doesn't make him any less of a hero. It would have made him a greater hero, but I think that he didn't want to make his ego very large. But it already was. He was at the height of his fame and was an amazing fighter. He did many feats and was amazing. He should be remembered forever and let him rest in peace.
    Critical Thinking Question Answer: Muhammad Ali transcended sports because he did many sports and other activities.

  • keewon0801-byo
    6/30/2016 - 01:39 p.m.

    Critical Thinking:

    He transcended sports by doing many. He did boxing, he wrote songs, (or helped musicians) joined the military, and he did many more. He helped many people in many, many, MANY ways. He was wanted in the Vietnam war. He met different band and they used Ali's phrases. And he also maybe went to hospitals and cheered kids with cancer. Maybe. He might of been a person like that. In the story he was a hero AND a villain. Here are my opinions. (Hero):Entertaining kids with a dis-abilities, Helping musicians and many more.(villain): His opponents.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    7/31/2016 - 10:24 p.m.

    Muhammad Ali transcended sports because his influence reached far beyond the ring in which he fought. His words helped people find their courage to stand up for what they believed in, as he did the same. By speaking out against the Vietnam War and the draft, Ali showed others that their voices made a difference.

  • quintonj-cel
    8/05/2016 - 10:28 a.m.

    Muhammad Ali did the sole thing that legends do to leave a legacy. He stood out as an entertainer, athlete, and "activist" in the community. According to the article, Ali brought a new, more unique approach to sports that no other had done before. The quick hands, poetic slurs, and stylish attitude will truly live forever.

  • fblake-dav
    9/08/2016 - 08:48 p.m.

    In response to "Muhammad Ali, and why he mattered," I agree that he was a great man. One reason I agree is that he worked very hard to become the heavyweight boxing champion. Another reason is that he didn't agree with the Vietnam war and he stood up for what he believed in. It says in the article that because he refused to fight in the war, he was not allowed to fight for 3 years. A third reason is that he gave a lot of African American people courage to not be afraid. He was not afraid of anything. Even though he had Parkinson's disease, I think he helped reach a lot of people during his life to not be afraid and have courage.

    David Bauder and Hillel Italie. "Muhammad Ali, and Why He Mattered." Http://tweentribune.com/article/tween56/muhammad-ali-and-why-he-mattered/#article-comments. Associated Press, 8 June 2016. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

  • peterr-pav
    9/15/2016 - 10:10 a.m.

    I have a magazine about Muhammad Ali.

  • jonathanf-stu
    10/06/2016 - 01:52 p.m.

    well he was likethe most famous fighters he could of joined the millitary and been more of a hero but he stuck with fighting he is my favorite fighter of all time

  • alexisa1-pel
    10/07/2016 - 12:09 p.m.

    Muhammad Ali transcended sports because he represented a lot of great things in groups.Muhammad Ali was the best boxer alive.Boxing was his favorite thing to do.He did a lot of things most people cannot do.

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