Muhammad Ali is perhaps one of the best known athletes, let alone boxers, in the world. His legacy is referenced every day on TV shows and through other pop culture outlets, and just about every professional boxer in the sport will cite him as an inspiration.
What you may or may not know however, is that Ali was more than an inspiration to boxers and boxing fans. He had a big impact of the civil rights movement, and the progress against racism. One of his first civil rights related actions that earned him some attention was his refusal to go to war in Vietnam after being drafted. His reasoning, along with many other African-Americans at the time, was that if he did not have full rights himself then there was no good reason for him to defend those rights in war.
This action earned him the support of many individuals and helped solidify his place in the civil rights movement. His reputation for resisting discrimination, as well as his personal ties to Islam, made him both a beacon of leadership for some and a target for others.
Due to his ever increasing fame, and the fact that millions of people were looking up to him (African-American or not), he had a huge pedestal for getting out his message. He simply had to make a remark during any given interview, and the news would travel the world over, each time having an impact on those who were listening.
Something that Muhammad Ali never had a problem with was speaking his mind loud and clear, and sometimes this even got him into trouble for his remarks about some of his opponents. With the negative effect also comes the positive effect however, and it made a way for him to easily get his point across about the issues related to racism and discrimination at that time.
One very famous and notable event occurred when Ali tossed his 1960 Olympic gold metal into the Ohio river, following being refused service at a white-only restaurant. It happened in his home town of Louisville, and the feeling of being refused service in his own town simply based on the color of his skin was too much to bare.
The government eventually responded to Ali’s refusal to go to war by stripping him of his title and charging him tens of thousands of dollars, as well as giving him a 5 year prison sentence. Fortunately this fine and the sentence was overturned on a technicality, and Ali was able to go back to his boxing career.
Ali was recognized for his role in civil rights back then, but he still is and will continue to be noted for many years to come.