By Ken Reed

Stand up for something.

In my view, that’s Muhammad Ali’s most important legacy.

Through the years, I agreed with a lot of Ali’s statements and disagreed with others. But I always admired his courage, his bravery, his willingness to seemingly always be true to himself and his convictions in the moment.

“Beginning to end, his most important legacy was that he made us braver,” said former New York Times columnist Robert Lipsyte in a Slate interview following Ali’s passing.

Exactly. Ali taught us all that we don’t have to be — shouldn’t be — robots that all march to the beat of the same drummer. In fact, he taught us that to live one’s life in that way was not only cowardly but unproductive. He showed us that the world doesn’t get better if people don’t stand up for something they believe in deeply.

“I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want,” said Ali.

Deep inside, that’s what we all want. To be free to be true to ourselves and our most strongly held beliefs and principles. Yet, most of us, when push comes to shove, fall in line, and mask ourselves, all in the hopes of avoiding rejection from other fearful human beings.

That’s sad. But Ali made us all just a little bit more brave.

“What Muhammad Ali did — in a culture that worships sports and violence as well as a culture that idolizes black athletes while criminalizing black skin — was redefine what it meant to be tough and collectivize the very idea of courage,” wrote sports and politics writer Dave Zirin in an Ali obituary.

“Through the Champ’s words on the streets and deeds in the ring, bravery was not only standing up to Sonny Liston. It was speaking truth to power, no matter the cost.”

Thank you for that lesson Muhammad.

Here’s hoping we all honor Ali’s life by living with a little more Ali-like courage moving forward.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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