To those who wonder what it takes to be the GOAT,
My father used to say he lived the life of 100 men. He was the three-time heavyweight champion of the world, an entertainer, an ambassador of peace, a conscientious objector and a hostage negotiator. He lit the Olympic cauldron and received the presidential medal of freedom. But for me, along with my eight siblings, he was simply a loving and affectionate father.
Being his daughter, I had the privilege of witnessing, up close and personal, the human inside the superhero. While he is considered to be the greatest boxer of all times, it was his accomplishments outside of the ring—his conviction, humanity, kindness, generosity and philanthropy, that made him so beloved and respected by people all over the world.
My father was exceptional in every way, from how he marketed himself to draw the crowds chanting, “I am the Greatest!” and “I am Beautiful!” to promoting black pride and self love during a time of tremendous injustice and abuse for African Americans to the way he lived his life openly and accessible to all. He never turned a fan away who requested an autograph.
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I remember how instead of jogging shoes, he ran in big black army boots so that his feet would feel light in the ring. He didn’t count the minutes of his training until he was exhausted. He used to say that the real training began when the pain set in because what mattered most in the ring was what you can do after you were tired. Whether it was in boxing, in his fight for civil rights or his years living with Parkinson’s, he never complained. He bared challenges and pain and kept going. The little boy inside of the man learned early that the same was true in life as it was in sports. This is how he operated both in and out of the ring. He marked his point of exhaustion as the true beginning of any battle.
Boxing was not only a sport to him, but an art and a platform that he used to speak up for people on the downside of advantage and stand for something greater than himself. This may have seemed frightening for most, especially in the turbulent and tumultuous sixties. No one lives life in the absence of fear. My father just faced his and walked through them. He focused on his belief in God and the afterlife and the notion that he was here on a divine mission. He used to say that if someone meant him harm, no man can protect him—and that God was his bodyguard. This is one of the reasons he was so confident and selfless.
He saw every challenge, setback and opportunity to help others as a test and a chance to promote decency and humanity. He never let the threat of monetary or material loss stop him from standing up for his principles. He believed that spreading his faith and standing up for his beliefs and for justice was how he could truly help others—and ultimately pass life’s tests.
Throughout my father’s life, he was called to rise above his pain time and again. He always rose to the challenge. Despite all the abuse, hatred, prejudice and injustice that many African Americans, minorities and my father experienced by white America, he didn’t harbor hatred or resentment. Instead, he stored love, forgiveness and tolerance in his heart and shared it with all who crossed his path. But this didn’t keep him from speaking the truth. He never tried to offend or insult anyone. But he never shied away from shedding light on America’s long, dark history and the injustices that he and other people of color faced daily.
People were taught not to love themselves. They were taught that black was bad and white was good.
My father would say, “Look how they make everything good, white. Jesus was made white with blond hair and blue eyes. All of the angels are white. They made Tarzan, King of the Jungle, white. All superheroes were white. Everything bad was made black. Devil food cake is the (dark) chocolate cake and angel food cake is the white cake. Black cats are bad luck. The black duck is the ugly duckling. You get “black balled.” from a fraternity”
The message was subtle—but profound. My father never spoke out of anger, but out of a desire to bring awareness to his people in order to change the narrative of how blacks and whites viewed themselves and one another in America. If only one little boy looked into the mirror and saw the greatness and beauty in themselves after watching my father on the television or listening to him on the radio, he achieved his goal.
My father would tell you that there was a force that filled his heart with love when everyone around him was projecting hate. And there was a spark that flared the flame of his bravery and gave him the courage and strength to speak his mind when people around the world were being killed for this very reason. That which gave him confidence when no one else believed in him and graced him with his larger-than-life personality, was the creator of the universe—God.
Even though my dad was committed to his religion, he taught us that the only true religion was the religion of the heart. He told us that the only thing that made another person greater than the next was the size of their heart. He believed that we were here on earth to grow spiritually and to help other people in need.
When my dad took his infamous and controversial stand against the war in Vietnam , he lost 3 1/2 of his prime fighting years. His heavyweight title was revoked. His passport was taken and he was fined $10,000. He never complained. He told the world that he didn’t lose anything—but gained everything. He gained freedom of speech, freedom of religion and peace of heart and mind. He gained a clear conscience— having kept others from being led to fight an unjust war.
He didn’t dodge the draft. He didn’t check into college or flee the country. He showed up at the induction center and refused to take the step. They told him they just wanted him to box exhibition fights and he would never see the battlefield or hold a gun.
He still said, “No! I won’t go!”
He wasn’t going to let them use him to lure other people into the army.
He told them, “ No Viet Kong ever called him a N***** …”
America wouldn’t even stand up for him right here for his religious beliefs. So, he told them that he wasn’t going to help murder innocent people of color for a country where he and men like him still weren’t free to use a bathroom or drink out of a water fountain that were labeled, “Whites Only.”
When future generations reflect on the life and legacy of my father, Muhammad Ali, a three-time heavyweight champion of the world, I hope they will remember that his true greatness and most meaningful accomplishments happened outside of the ring. It was the simple things like the way he interacted with everyday people on a daily basis. He found great joy and peace in treating people with kindness. He loved to inspire people and make them feel good about themselves.
When the mailman was at our door he would say, “This is the world’s greatest mailman.”
When our cook or any chef walked into the room he would say, “This is the world’s greatest cook.”
He always made everyone feel like they were the greatest of all time.
His greatness was also in the way he would bring homeless people home with him to stay in our large thirty-room house. He believed it was a sin to have so many empty rooms when there were people in need of one.
His greatness was in the way he walked the streets— allowing any and everyone to touch him, talk to him and hug him. It was in the way he always gave wise yet simple advice.
He would say, “There are going to be challenges, pains, joys, heartaches and setbacks in life. It’s what makes life, life. You just have to figure out what you stand for, and stand by it—no matter what. And if you want to be the greatest, find something that you’re naturally good at, work hard until you become great at it—and you will be the greatest too!”
I believe my father changed the world and left an incredible legacy because he lived his life with an open heart. He was charitable, decent and kind. He always stood for something greater than himself. He stood for people. He stood for what he believed was right, no matter the price. He had the courage and strength to do so because he did not live just for himself or this material world. He lived for God, love and humanity.
With love, respect and hope for all,