I have to get this off my chest once and for all. I know Muhammad Ali is an American icon. His supporters talk about all he’s done and how he’s suffered. How he’s “the greatest” boxer of all time, and how he was humiliated when he refused to serve his country during a time of war (in doing so changing his name to reflect his conversion to Sunni Moslem). Ali argued that his new religion prevented him fighting; therefore, he refused to answer his nation’s call as a conscientious objector. He was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title and spent a time, albeit briefly, in jail. After which, he staged a come back to regain his title and eventually went on to do community service. While, that’s commendable, did he really deserve the Medal of Honor?
Personally, I have to say that in itself does not entitle him to the nation’s highest civilian award. The award was designed to be given to ordinary citizens who directly contributed to the wellbeing of the country (ironically, it was originally presented in recognition of civilian service during WWII). Refusing to serve his country does not, in my opinion, qualify. I missed going to Vietnam by barely a year, yet I volunteered to join the military right out of high school. Today, I am a disabled veteran. I had older friends and brothers of friends who went off to war. Some came back in cheap green plastic body bags. I served with many a Marine and Sailor who served in Vietnam. More than a few volunteered for several tours of duty there. I was stationed with Navy Seals. I was station with Marine Recon Rangers (“hooyah!” guys). These men, and many women who served, were there to serve and protect this nation. None of these people wanted to die. Not a one. In fact, I guess you could say that we were all “conscientious objectors”. But when our nation needed us, we went---right or wrong.
Second, what does converting to Sunni Islam have to do with anything? You think that either the Sunni or Shite Moslems don’t fight? Wake up and smell the goat cheese. They’ve been murdering each other since the days of Muhammad’s grandsons, and they continue killing each other with abandon to this very day. Let’s face it; no religion is completely untainted by shame of having murdered in the name of God.
For those here in Louisville, Kentucky, the childhood home of then Cassius Clay, let’s remember that while we’re spending tens of millions of dollars on the Muhammad Ali Center, this is same guy who repeatedly told the world how “backwards” Louisville was; of how he didn’t want to associated with Louisville; of how he would need come back to Louisville; of how, after his conversion, he would never allow his promoters to use “Louisville” as his home city in boxing matches, choosing instead Chicago, Illinois or Patterson, New Jersey. Let’s also not forget, this is the same guy who pitched his Olympic Gold Metal into the Potomac River.
Finally, as a life long boxing aficionado, I don’t think Ali can lay claim to the title of great of fighter of all time. In fact, Louisville has produced several great boxers like Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, and Jimmy Page. A terrific athlete? You bet. As a sports entertainer? Yelp, he was one of the best. In fact, Ali was one the very best self promoters in sports history. But as the truly the greatest “Master of the Sweet Science”? Give me “Sugar Ray” Robinson, Floyd Patterson, or Rocky Marciano anytime.