Muhammad Ali’s draft decision still resonates 50 years later

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HOUSTON - It's been fifty years since Muhammad Ali shocked the world, not with his hands, but with his heart.

On April 28, 1967 the world heavyweight champion refused to join the Army and fight in the Vietnam War.

"Muhammad Ali stood up on this point of what Muslims believe," said Student Minister Dr. Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. "We believe that we who declare ourselves to be righteous Muslims, should not participate in wars which take the lives of humans. We do not believe this nation should force us to take part in such wars, for we have nothing to gain from it unless America agrees to give us the necessary territory wherein we may have something to fight for."

That same day the New York State Athletic board stripped Ali of his title.

A few months later he was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The New York State Athletic Commission also stripped him of his title and suspended his boxing license for three years. Ali was allowed to live outside of prison while his lawyers appealed the decision.

Eventually, in 1971, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, but not before Ali lost several years of his boxing prime.

We now look back at Ali's actions as courageous but public opinion was very different back in 1967.

"Muhammad Ali was a hated man," said Dr. Muhammad. "Muhammad Ali was almost universally condemned for changing his name to Muhammad Ali and for not being inducted into the Army."

Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and dedicated the rest of his life to charity and his Muslim faith. In 1984 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Over the years, as his condition worsened, he made fewer and fewer public appearances.

Ali died in June of 2016 at the age of 74.

However, his charisma and willingness to stand up for his beliefs lives on.


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