Muhammad Ali: The Value of Being Yourself

Muhammad Ali: Why the safe way of following the system is not always in your best interest. What is the value of being yourself?

I have never seen a rebel who was boring. ~

Muhammad Ali: The Value of Being Yourself

John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were all assassinated during the turmoil of the Cuban crisis, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights issues of the 60s.  The violent race riots and political riots happened often.  Films of the Vietnam War and the riots were a daily part of the evening news.

At any time, life can become a bewildering.  It is not always as simple as getting an education and learning how to do our jobs.  The major events of history weave themselves into fabric of our life.

In the middle of the 1960s, Muhammad Ali became a rebel by plan and by conviction.  He dealt with the bewildering 60s by being the person he wanted to be.

Honoring Your Beliefs

Muhammad Ali became World Champion at age 22 in 1964.

However, his religious beliefs put him in direct conflict with the federal laws for the Selective Service.  Based on his beliefs, he refused to register induction into the Armed Forces.

He had always been religious. When he was a child, he carried a Bible with him in public.  After becoming a Muslim, he practiced his religion with as much conviction and openness as he had always practiced religion.

On June 20, 1967, federal prosecutors convicted Muhammad Ali of draft evasion.  The federal court sentenced him to five years in prison.

While he appealed the decision, he stayed out of prison, but lost three years of his boxing career.  During those three years, he spoke on college campuses.  He discussed his beliefs on civil rights and on his religious views on the Vietnam War.

In 1970, there was no boxing commission in Georgia.  The city of Atlanta allowed Muhammad Ali to fight an unsanctioned fight against Jerry Quarry.

Never Give Up on Yourself.

It was 1971 before his appeal reached the Supreme Court.  The Court ruled 8-0 that Ali met all the standards for conscientious objector status.  The Court overturned his conviction. He could return to boxing with no restrictions.

In 1974, Muhammad Ali regained the title of heavyweight champion in one of boxing history’s most famous upsets.  Billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle” and fought in Kinshasa, Zaire, Muhammad Ali faced then heavyweight champion George Foreman. In the eighth round, Ali knocked out Foreman and regained the title he had lost during his legal battles as a conscientious objector.

He continued to box for another eight years.

The Courage to Be Different

Muhammad Ali had the courage to invent a promotional image that many people would hate.  He said that whether people paid to see him lose or paid to see him win, the important thing is that they paid to watch his fights.

He based his persona in the ring and in public on the persona of the professional wrestler Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George created the character of a professional wrestler who was arrogant, pampered, and self-centered.

He would stroll down the aisle to the ring and toss flowers to the crowd.  Adorned in silk robes, he would strut around the ring and taunt the crowds when they booed him.

Sometimes, Gorgeous George had the crowds so angry that fights broke out in the crowds.

During the height of his career, Gorgeous George’s matches had the highest ratings on television.  He and “Mr. T.V,” Milton Berle were two of the most famous people in America.

Furthermore, Gorgeous George, like Muhammad Ali, was an accomplished athlete, who started competing professionally when he was 17.

Muhammad Ali realized that he could draw much larger crowds not only based on his boxing skills but by promoting his fights with antics like those of Gorgeous George.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali said that he was 9 when he first saw the wrestler Gorgeous George.  He said that he decided then that he would adopt a public persona based on the way the Gorgeous George promoted his fights.

The Value of Being Yourself

In time, the public view of Muhammad Ali changed.  He would become one of the best-known celebrities in the world.

His bragging and his resistance to the draft angered and bewildered people. But, as time passed, Ali became a symbol of hope and a hero. He taught many of us the value of being ourselves.

As unique and at times outrageous as Ali could be, he was never boring.