President Trump was a major supporter of the late boxer Muhummad Ali, who used his platform to draw attention to racial and religious discrimination. Trump credits Ali's fight against Joe Frazier in 1971 for sparking his interest in boxing, later hosting fights at his casinos, the New York Times reported during the presidential campaign. The two raised money together for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Trump even threw a 500-guest birthday party for Ali in Atlantic City in the 1980s.
During his presidential campaign, Trump said Ali taught him about diversity, calling the boxer an "amazing example of strength and kindness and ability and athleticism,” the Times reported.
But the person carrying on Ali's legacy of activism in sports is an athlete the president has often criticized: Colin Kaepernick.
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback won the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award on Tuesday night for protesting racism and police violence in the United States by kneeling during the national anthem.
At the awards ceremony, Kaepernick said Ali's activism inspired his own, saying the boxing legend “mentored me without ever meeting me.”
“The footprints he leaves are large, and his life is and has been a multi-textured tapestry that is rich in love, wisdom, life lessons and human kindness. I can only hope that I'm taking steps toward walking on the footsteps that he has left behind for the world to follow,” he said, adding that he accepts this award “knowing that the legacy of Muhammad Ali is that of a champion of the people."
After converting to Islam, Ali famously refused to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. Despite the contradiction of a boxer advocating nonviolence, Ali gave up his title as heavyweight champion, which he had held for three years.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam,” Mr. Ali said in 1967, “while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
While Ali didn't live to see to Kaepernick's protests or the controversy they set off, he did have the opportunity to speak out against Trump's campaign promises. After Trump, as a presidential candidate, proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, Ali criticized leaders for using religion to cause division.
“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is.”
We don't know if Ali — who died on June 3, 2016, before Trump was elected president — would have responded to Trump's current ban on people from certain Muslim countries entering the United States, or the president referring to protesting players as "sons of b----es.” We can guess, though.
But what is clear is that Ali influenced another generation of athlete-activists for which the president does not seem to have the same respect. For many of Trump's critics, the best way to honor Ali's legacy is to hear Kaepernick out.