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Muhammad Ali

by Gordon Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To celebrate the life and achievements of an inspiring sportsman.

Preparation and materials


1. Run through the following key events of Muhammad Ali’s life without saying who you are talking about.

– He was born in 1942 in the segregated South of the United States.

– He experienced racism and discrimination as a child and young man.

– When he was 12, his bike was stolen and he told a police officer that he wanted to beat up the thief. The officer had a more constructive idea and directed the young boy to the local gym.

– Working with the officer, the boy learned a sport.

– In 1960, he won an Olympic gold medal.

– He went on to become one of the greatest sportsmen of the age – or, as he said, ‘the greatest’.

He said:

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.

2. Ask if anyone knows who you are talking about. It is Muhammad Ali.

Recount some of his successes in the boxing ring:

– as an amateur, he won the coveted Golden Gloves in1956

– in the 1960s, he didn’t lose a single fight

– he was the world champion heavyweight boxer three times – the first time in 1964, the last time in 1975

– his fights are among the best-known and most-watched boxing bouts and are still talked about today

– his most famous quote about his boxing style is that he would, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!’

3. Say that there is another side to Ali’s story. Mention his philanthropy (actions on behalf of others) and strong moral sense. Also that Ali converted to Islam in1964, changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali to reflect his new beliefs.

Ali said:

The word 'Islam' means 'peace’. The word 'Muslim' means 'one who surrenders to God.' But the press makes us seem like haters.
Muhammad Ali in interview with Oprah, 2001

Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.
Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali: His life and times

4. In 1966, when the US government called him up to serve in Vietnam, he refused to go. He believed the war was against his religious principles.

In 1967, he has found guilty of refusing to join up, but cleared his name after a long court battle. Ali said:

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.

The Boxing Association took away his title and suspended him for three and a half years.

Ali returned to boxing in 1970, winning his second world champion title in 1974.

5. Ali retired in 1981, but he didn’t stop being in the public eye. He used his celebrity to support the Paralympics, the Make a Wish Foundation and the United Nations, travelling extensively to do so. Ali said:

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

6. In 1984, Ali announced that he had developed Parkinson's disease. He set up the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona, for which he raised funds running into millions of dollars.

7. Point out that boxing can cause health problems and many doctors are concerned about this aspect. It cannot be said for certain, however, that Ali’s Parkinson’s was caused by boxing, though many doctors think it may have contributed.

Time for reflection

Think about the following things that Muhammad Ali said:

I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'

I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself and I believe in the goodness of others.

Silence is golden when you can't think of a good answer.

The man who has no imagination has no wings.

Publication date: April 2015   (Vol.17 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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