The Greatest will forever “Float like a Butterfly…”
By Commissioner Bill Proctor
Special to the Outlook
Muhammad Ali razzled and dazzled all who knew him. His life’s contributions and energies exceed his own lifetime and of necessity must flow across the ages of time to come.
His athletic brilliance was supreme. His oratorical genius remains unmatched. His witty comments will live on. He was the first sports superstar of lasting worldwide acclaim. Ali’s jovial nature and humanitarian spirit outside the boxing ring was as compelling as the exciting feats he skillfully executed inside the ring.
Thank God for the life energies and complex simple life contributions of Muhammad Ali, the People’s champion and most beloved athlete of all time.
“I am the greatest—I shook up the wooorrlllddd!!!” was an Ali catch-phrase that was far more true than a self-proclaimed brand. “The Greatest of aaalll time” he said he was.
I believe he will stand the test of time as a true champion for the ages, isolated as a standard bearer of sports excellence. Ali can never be measured solely by his in the ring win and loss record. He transcends a mere boxing record.
Ironically, while the Roots series aired on television this week, it was Muhammad Ali’s Ambassadorial presence in an epic fight on the continent of Africa in 1974 that first established a tangible bond of African and African American relationships in ways spiritual and otherwise. His fight in Zaire, Africa with George Foreman titled “The Rumble in the Jungle” was a huge recognition of African people’s unity beyond that tiny boxing stage featuring two African sons born in America.
In an era of greater financial rewards for America’s professional athletes, Ali was the perfect Ambassador to symbolize the humility, respect and love that African Americans have for the African continent. He bestowed honor to a continent that never before had been the site of a world class title fight.
Fate had it that George Foreman injured his hand before the Zaire title fight, promoted by Don King. The fight was postponed for weeks until Foreman’s hand heeled. In the interim of waiting for the rescheduled fight, Ali—outside the boxing ring when training—became a visible icon. African people loved that Ali loved them by daily visiting their communities and living among and with the people.
This people’s champ was accessible and relished those who loved him. Ali embraced and accepted the realization he was hope and inspiration to millions. Boxing was a platform, he understood, to uplift others in their struggles for survival and dignity.
He embodied the emblematic spirit of American protests. By adopting Islam as his religious identity this act, alone, was a protest against the worst traditions of protestant religion in America. He, simultaneously, was the most recognized and noted figure to take a position against the Vietnam War by refusing to submit and surrender to the custody of the American government’s military.
His religion, Ali declared, did not permit him to kill other people. In fact he explained with grammatic simplicity: “Ain’t no Vietcong ever done anything against me. I have no reason to fight and kill someone who ain’t did nothin to me.”
After winning the 1960 Olympic heavyweight gold medal, Ali defeated Sonny Liston to become Heavyweight Champion. Ali defeated Liston twice. And so the best fighter on the planet said he would not report to “duty” and kill anyone.
This principled position and moral stance by Ali fueled sentiments of many varieties. He was stripped of his boxing titles earned inside the ring and denied license to box for a living.
However, outside the ring Ali gained a more endearing and sentimental title he welcomed and valued more. He became known as “The People’s Champion.”
The United States Supreme Court supported Ali’s assertions of being an objector of conscience to submitting to the military for “duty.”
This legal victory, superceded all other boxing victories combined.
And so, both in and out the ring, Muhammad Ali spoke with a clear voice and empowered our understanding that bragging ain’t bragging when you back it up.
The Champ’s Supreme Court victory catapulted him to a level of regard never afforded an athlete. Ali became the most recognized face on earth at the height of his popularity exceeding heads of states. He was respected, loved and adored by citizens of Leon County, Florida and around the world. Beyond the realm of time the People’s Champion is Floating Like a Butterfly.
Yes, Muhammad: You “shook up the world!” Yes Champ: You were “A Baaaddd Man!” Yes Ali: You were “The Greatest of Aaalll Time!”