‘The Greatest’ was also a champion of diversity
Muhammad Ali, a warrior in the boxing ring and a champion for diversity and civil rights outside of it, also knew how to exploit modern media hype.
The 74-year-old, who died Friday after being hospitalized for what was called a respiratory ailment, baffled and offended some journalists, according to Newsday’s Neil Best.
Ali used his media appearances to try to morally uplift a country. Best called Ali the “media gift that kept on giving.”
“Muhammad Ali was not the first athlete to understand and exploit modern media hype, but no one came close to mastering the art in its early form quite like the famed boxer,” Best adds.
Lawyer-turned-sports broadcaster Howard Cossell tops the list of journalists dazzled by Ali. Cossell — who once described himself as arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, and a showoff — defended Ali’s right to object to the Vietnam War and supported the boxer when he converted to Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay. The two men, “formed a symbiotic relationship that lifted both their profiles and fostered a public face that mixed (mostly) good-natured joshing with important topics of their era,” according to the Newsday report.
Just as he refused to serve in the Vietnam War, Ali also didn’t shy away from difficult topics involving race, religion and diversity. The conscious objector embraced tough questions from journalists.
In 1968 Ali debated conservative commentator William F. Buckley on public affairs show “Firing Line.”
“The exchanges were extraordinarily blunt and frank as it touched on sensitive racial issues, yet the tone remained calm and reasoned throughout, which can be jarring to a 21st-century viewer accustomed to yelling on 24/7 TV news channels,” Best writes. And he also appeared in countless books, television shows and movies. Ali starred in the 1977 film, The Greatest, as himself as well as a television series the same year.
In December, Ali released a statement criticizing GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Ali wrote: “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda.”
For more than three decades Ali had suffered from Parkinson’s, a debilitating neurological condition that made it difficult for him to communicate and move around. Interviews with the legendary boxer and advocate diminished as the disease effected his ability to talk.
A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
Reaction to Ali’s death was quick.
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) June 4, 2016
Muhammad Ali kept coming back, in and out of the ring t.co/HB1ikZYB9j
Today my heart goes out to a pioneer, a true legend, and a hero by all means! Not a day went by entering the gym that I didn't think of you. Your charisma, your charm and above all, your class are all of the elements that will be greatly missed by myself and the world. You are someone that inspired me greatly throughout my boxing journey and words cannot express how great you were as a person! Thank you for everything you've done for Black America, in the the world of sports & entertainment and for the legacy you leave behind! My sincerest condolences to the Ali family!
Until Ali no one said "I'm beautiful" he was royalty, yet common man was his pal. That is beauty. Greatest kind pic.twitter.com/uX7htKHrGc
— George Foreman (@GeorgeForeman) June 4, 2016