The Legacy of Muhammad Ali

Jun 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A tribute to Muhammad Ali prior to the first inning between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A tribute to Muhammad Ali prior to the first inning between the Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

We here at Around the Foghorn like to keep things centered around our beloved San Francisco Giants. However, with the passing of Muhammad Ali at 74 years old, we wished to take a moment to reflect on the legacy of the greatest of all time.

I’m going to assume most of you reading this article haven’t had the chance to meet me in person, allow me to introduce myself…

Hi, my name is Ross Parker. I’m a 21 year old junior attending Oregon State University. I’m a huge Giants fan and I spend my non-studying time taking in as much of the pacific northwest as I can. I’m also a production trainee with the Pac-12 network working to get involved in TV production for a post-collegiate career.

During my freshman year at OSU, I struggled with issues of self-doubt and a lack of confidence. I was a quiet guy in the dorm and I didn’t think very highly of myself. When class was done, I went straight to my dorm room, locked myself in my room, and hopped on my laptop. I felt out of place in college and was considering coming back home to California.

Towards the end of the school year, I was cruising through Youtube and was recommended to check out an old black and white video. The video contained an African American boxer trash-talking his opponent. The video had to have been from the 70’s. Within seconds of flipping on this video, I was sucked into this dude’s contagious energy. The man spoke with beautiful words that rhymed and jived while still instilling fear into his opponents. Seemingly after every sentence, he repeatedly stated “I am the greatest!” But what took me back the most, was that he believed with every fiber of his being that he was the greatest. That man turned out to be Muhammad Ali. That was my first time I ever heard Ali speak, and I was mesmerized by the champ in seconds.

By the end of my freshman year in college, I spent well over several hundreds of hours watching videos of Ali talking and “dancing”. In these videos, Ali spoke to me on a deeper level, he preached self-confidence and swagger. These messages started rubbing off on me. It gave me confidence I lacked and inspired me to believe in myself.

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By Junior year, I was an entirely different person from that freshman homebody. I carried myself with a swagger of self-belief. I started seeing the value in myself and that I am great in my own way. I could even talk to girls! I had that much swagger! This was Ali’s influence. Ali made me believe in myself again and helped me see my own value that I couldn’t find in myself. And he did all of this without ever meeting me.

Last night, I spent an hour crying in my room when I heard the news of Ali’s death. I lost one of the biggest idols in my life. This man changed my life completely and I will never get the chance to shake his hand and tell him thank you for making me a better person. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t well up a couple times while writing this article. A couple of friends took me out to cheer me up. Though they weren’t as big of Ali fans as I was, they recognized his importance to me, and consoled with me. They understood his greatness. That’s when it hit me how deep Ali’s legacy runs.

The champ served as one of the most iconic legends in history, not just in sports. Ali’s greatness and inspiration comes from not just his tremendous boxing skills, but also his resiliency in life. Ali fought more than just boxers in his time. He fought the US government, he fought Parkinson’s Disease, and he even fought racial prejudice. Ali stood up for his beliefs and unintentionally rallied billions of people to his side. Ali served as a beacon for standing up for what you believe in. He gave people a voice to believe in, and a very loud voice at that.

Ali reminded the world that no matter how crazy everyone thinks you are, what you think about yourself matters most. The greatest never needed anybody else’s belief in him, as he saw his own value and knew nobody could match him. The champ said it best himself, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” His greatness was unmatched, in and out of the ring.

Muhammad Ali is the embodiment of a beautiful balance between cockiness and bravado. Until Ali, nobody in the world spoke in a manner as the champ did. Ali received hate and scrutiny for his cockiness, no one wanted to see him succeed. Yet, he kept telling us the same thing over and over, “I am the greatest of all time”. And for 10 years, people refused to believe him and continued rooting against him.

We first heard the cries in 1964 after Ali defeated Sonny Liston, yet no one listened. 10 years pass, and the champ fought some of the biggest baddies in the 60’s. Then, in 1967, Ali took on his biggest battle vs the US government. Ali refused to be taken into the armed services draft to fight in the Vietnam War. Ali was adamantly against the war and would fight tooth and nail to avoid induction. This fight stripped him of all his boxing accolades, and threatened a five year sentence in jail. Ali didn’t believe in the Vietnam War.

To Ali, the war supported the further encouragement of white supremacy over minorities. As Muhammad described it: “No, I am not going ten thousand 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.” He found it fundamentally wrong to try and change another nation when he was still discriminated in his own country. His words won over the hearts of millions and helped support him through this trying time. The champ eventually won the court case and was reinstated into boxing after 4 years of court battles.

In 1971, he earned his way back into the ring. He spent several years fighting his way through multiple opponents to earn a battle vs George Foreman, arguably the strongest opponent Ali ever faced. When the fight was announced, the media went into a frenzy, everybody believed Foreman would kill Ali. On October 30th, 1974, the “Rumble in the Jungle” began. 8 short rounds later, the champ knocked out George Foreman. Then, Ali said it again, “I am the greatest of all time. Never again say that I’m going to be defeated”. And this time, people started believing him. For 10 years, he preached his greatness, and it took all 10 years for people to start believing him. Though Ali’s faith in himself never wavered once.

What makes Ali’s legacy truly lasting is the timelessness of his words and teachings. He lived his life in the servitude of others. He spent his time teaching people and bringing up others to try and be as great as he was. He saw the greatness in others, the kind of greatness that I didn’t see in myself until he brought it out.

The champ’s life story is carried on from generation to generation. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with my grandpa and reminisced about Ali’s clashes with Ken Norton or Joe Frazier, and sometimes even about that bum Floyd Patterson. What astounds me even more so, is how often I walk around OSU campus with my Ali shirt on, and college students that are my age will come up to me just to talk to me about my shirt. Ali is timeless, everybody can recognize greatness, and everybody recognizes Ali. Ali was the people’s first champ, and is still the champ to this day. If you don’t believe me, watch this video of the 1996 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, and try and tell me that Ali lighting the torch means little about being the people’s champ. I’ll call you crazy on the spot.

As I wrap up this article, it disheartens me to know that I have to go to sleep tonight in a world that doesn’t have Muhammad Ali in it anymore. We lost arguably the greatest human being of any generation. But I take heart in the idea that even though Ali has passed, his ideas, his beliefs, his teachings, and, most importantly, his catchy quotes will never go away (Float like a butterfly…). Ali will never die. Plain and simple.

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When I have children of my own, I imagine a day will come when they will ask me who I looked up to. I know because I did that to my dad. So, I’m going to tell them about my grandfather. I’m going to tell them about my dad. I’m going to tell them about some of my professors in college that inspired me. But first, I’m going to tell them about Muhammad Ali.

As I sign off, I want to leave you all with an Ali quote that I live my everyday life by: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Rest in Peace, Muhammad Ali.  You are the greatest of all time. You will be missed, champ.