My Name, Not Yours
Malcom X and Ali share good times. Photo by Bob Gomel/Getty Images
A nod to the great Muhammad Ali, dead at 74, a brave black man at a difficult time who "just wanted to be free," who never knew his place and refused to be afraid when others tried to put him in it, who insisted to the world of power that first honored and then rejected him that "I don't have to be what you want me to be," who at the height of his fame and riches declared "Goddamn the White Man's money" in the name of principle, who refused to join a racist unjust war, connected the dots of white oppression around the world and proclaimed, "The real enemy of my people is here."
Though so many remember him for unprecedented grit and grace in the boxing ring, Ali himself chose again and again to measure his own worth in the world beyond his bloody sport. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some bloodthirsty people," he said near the end of his reign. "I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world." The final irony of Ali's political heroism, notes Dave Zirin, is that he was unequivocally hailed as a national icon only after he lost his fearless voice.
"We haven’t heard Ali speak for himself in more than a generation," Zirin writes, "and it says something damning about this country that he was only truly embraced after he lost his power of speech, stripped of that beautiful voice...His greatest gift was that he gave us quite a simple road map to walk his path. It is not about being a world-class athlete or an impossibly beautiful and charismatic person. It is simply to stand up for what you believe in."
In 1967, Ali famously connected the civil rights struggle to the injustices of the war in Vietnam: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end... I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality...I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.” May he rest in peace and power.
Still one of the greatest sports photos ever