I’m at a loss tonight – because I simply can’t do it justice. After a weekend filled with compassionate eulogies and emotional tributes – I’m not nearly worthy of reflecting on the life of Muhammad Ali.
I never met him, nor was I alive in his heyday. But that doesn’t prevent me from standing here tonight and reiterating that he was the greatest – the best of all time. That his legacy transcends sports. That he belongs as one of the most historic icons of this period.
While I appreciate your viewership, if you haven’t taken time this weekend to read a heartfelt column, watch a retrospective piece, or simply check out YouTube for Ali’s greatest interviews, I encourage you to do that right now.
In fact, I’d show them here, if I wasn’t concerned about copyright laws.
Which is ironic, because Muhammad Ali spat in the face of authority, sacrificing the best years of his career to stand up for his beliefs. A champion in the ring – a champion of many people – and by now, one’s opinion of his stance toward the draft might ultimately take a backseat to the recognition of the boldness it took in that time period to do so.
When I think of Ali, I think of defiance – but I also think of courage. I think of controversial – but also loyalty. I think of brashness – but also his charitable contributions that some never saw.
And while I think of this iconic photo of his standing over Sonny Liston, I also think of the other iconic image of an ultimate humanitarian with a torch in his hand at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
So whether you remember Muhammad Ali most as an athlete, an activist or an entertainer, the simple fact that he filled that entire spectrum speaks volumes. It’s a reason he became a magnet for Hollywood celebrities and World Leaders alike – and his presence commanded the room. It’s a reminder that there’s at least little Ali in all of us – whether we regularly show it or not. It might be his conviction, it might be his compassion, it might be his bravery, it might be his desire to help others.
Sure I speak my mind, but it’s tempered in this setting. I’m envious Ali would’ve never let it hold him back. I’m envious of his showmanship – and his unfiltered honesty.
And yes, Ali’s legacy wears on in athletes like Richard Sherman or Cam Newton or even Conor McGregor – athletes who have no issue using their platforms to speak their minds – it also lives on in more quietly confident athletes like Russell Wilson, whose internal optimism reflects the external hubris of the boxing champ. And it lives on in every athlete that prioritizes charity for the greater good, rather than the publicity that comes with it.
Again, I’m not the expert on Muhammad Ali. But like many others, I treasure his lifetime contributions – in the world of sports, in the fight against social injustice, and in his later years, the push for world peace.
For the rest of his time, he’ll be remembered as simply “The Greatest.” And I have no problem with that.