The (Louisville) Courier-Journal issued a belated apology on Sunday for refusing to address Muhammad Ali by his chosen name. The mea culpa came two days after thousands bid farewell during funeral services in Louisville for the legendary boxer and civil rights advocate.
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. His hometown newspaper did not look fondly upon Ali’s name change. In at least one instance, the Courier-Journal published a cartoon that implied Ali changed his name only to avoid the draft
The newspaper now seeks to correct the record, a week after his death.
“It is time for the Courier-Journal to acknowledge the role it played by not accepting the name Muhammad Ali for several years after the 22-year-old Cassius Clay took on the moniker when he adopted the Muslim religion in 1964,” Sunday’s editorial reads. “During those years, in our news columns, the CJ almost always called the boxer Cassius Clay, certainly in headlines. Often in stories the name was followed by a parenthetical (Muhammad Ali) but not always. On occasion, we were more dismissive of the name. After Ali polished off Jerry Quarry on Oct. 26, 1970, the CJ story worded it: “Cassius Clay (or Muhammad Ali, if you will).”
In addition to the cartoon, Courier-Journal editors continued to ridicule Ali for changing his name in front-page stories, editorial pages, and photo captions. In apologizing for its actions, the Courier-Journal states it was not alone. The editorial claims that The New York Times used Cassius Clay until 1971, while Sports Illustrated changed to Ali in 1967.
Still, the Courier-Journal acknowledges, as Ali’s hometown newspaper, it should have done better.
“We won’t even try to speculate what the motives of the editors in that era were,” the editorial states. “The CJ was certainly an early champion of civil rights and desegregation. Yet we took what in today’s light is an oddly hostile approach on the specific issue of Ali’s name, which did little to help race relations in a turbulent time.
“One of Muhammad Ali’s six core principles is Respect,” it continues. “Sharing this bit of our history gives us an opportunity to pay him the respect he deserves.”