How Muhammad Ali changed the way we see sport

Muhammad Ali, who passed away last week at the age of 74, changed the way we see sport and the inequalities that both feed and dramatise it, according to John Williams from the Department of Sociology.

In a recent article for the Leicester Mercury, John explains how Ali was politically attuned, becoming something of a divisive public figure because of his braggart ways and his often vitriolic comments about race and inequality. In the UK, Ali seemed more embraced because of his incredible boxing skills, his humour and his obvious humanity.

The piece mentions how Ali won an Olympic gold medal on national service for the US in Rome in 1960, but later threw the medal into the Ohio River having been refused service in a US restaurant because he was black. He also changed his "slave name" to Muhammad Ali and joined the Nation of Islam.

When the US government tried to draft Ali for the Vietnam war in 1967, he refused, saying he had no beef with his brothers in south-east Asia. He was stripped of his title, but eventually returned to fight epic bouts with Joe Frazier in the early 1970s, before winning the title for an unprecedented third time against George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

In the article John said: "Few people in sport become important because of their character and political consciousness. Ali was not contained by his sport: he changed the way we see sport and the inequalities that both feed and dramatise it. For people of my generation, there will never be another."

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