Muhammad Ali turns 70 today. Happy Birthday, Greatest of All Time!
Time and Parkinson's may have slowed the champ down but his story continues to inspire millions around the world. Some of Ali's feats came from inside the ring but the reason why his story resonates is because of what he did outside. He spoke out against the Vietnam War and became a catalyst for young Americans to take a firm stand against that distant and futile adventure. He rejected the Jim Crow mentality of his country in the '60s with an audacity that was breathtaking and moving. He gave underdogs, particularly African-Americans, the courage to take charge of their destiny. He spoke truth to power long before politicians turned the phrase into a platitude. The boldness to go from Cassisus Clay to Muhammad Ali alone would have moved mountains.
Ali did all this and more but he faltered several times as well. He was sometimes cruel and mean toward his opponents (Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier). He was callous toward his wife Belinda. He had extra-marital affairs.
Ali acknowledges his failings and that's what allows him to move forward. He was not one to hold grudge against anyone, including himself. He looked in the mirror and saw not only how pretty he was, as he was fond of reminding us, but also how flawed. He touched us with his humanity.
"These are the cards I was dealt, so don't be sad," he often tells his wife and children as they struggle to reconcile with his condition. He has found a serenity in his faith - Islam - that steadies him and fills him with gratitude for having come this far.
Ali never turned down a request for an autograph. He visited the sick whenever he could, persuaded a man about to commit suicide to choose life, and raised millions of dollars for charitable causes. His sense of humor and raw intelligence and, of course, his unparalleled ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee made him one of the most beloved icons of our time.
"I'd rather suffer now than in the hereafter," Ali says when people tell him how sorry they are about his Parkinson's. A champion all the way.