The Impact Of Muhammad Ali On The United States

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This essay will show the long-lasting impact that Muhammad Ali had on the United States through analyzation of his actions that impacted sports, politics and, culture. Ali was born on January 17th, 1942 as Cassius Clay , later changing his name due to his conversion to Islam Faith. Ali was a world class fighter, fighting legendary boxers on his path to greatness, he would go onto win 56 professional fights during his career. Outside of the ring, Ali would proceed to change the landscape of the United States. Ali showed that he is unwilling to disregard his beliefs under any circumstances or pressure. He has faced many obstacles throughout his journey, he endured constant criticism from many places including news papers and the competition. His toughest obstacle outside the ring was his battle for religious freedom where he would go up against the United States government in a precedent setting case. The proceeding paragraphs will show how Muhammad Ali rose to the top and detail the influence he had on the United States, during and after his career was over. [1: Andres F. Quintana. MUHAMMAD ALI: THE GREATEST IN COURT. Marquette Sports Law Review, 18, 171–437. Retrieved from (2007) (Accessed February 14th)] [2: Townsend, W et al. Remembering the rejection of Muhammad Ali: identity, civil rights and social memory. Sport in History, 38(3), 267–288. Routledge. (2018) (Accessed February 14th)] [3: Gorsevski, et al,. Muhammad Ali’s Fighting Words: The Paradox of Violence in Nonviolent Rhetoric. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 97(1), 50–73. Taylor & Francis Group. (2011) (Accessed February 14th)]

Religion, Race and Criticism

In the fallout of defeating Sony Liston for the heavyweight title with Malcom X in his corner, then Cassius Clay, was bombarded with questions regarding his affiliation to Islam and, NoI as well as, connection to Malcom X. Ali stood his ground, confirming his Islam faith along with his new name given to him by leader of NoI, Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad Ali would not shy away from questioning, about his name explaining that his old name belonged to a slave, exercising his freedom he chooses to go by Muhammad Ali. At the time, United States reacted to the news of Muhammad Ali with great shock, and criticism. Ali would be a target not only in the eyes of the press, the public along with other competitors have taken jabs at Ali. After Ali changed his name from Clay, many newspapers refused to refer to Muhammad Ali by his preferred name, continuing to call him by his given name, Cassius Clay. Many of the newspapers painted Ali in a negative light, running false narratives and, some resorting to name calling. The criticism followed Ali into the ring, with many taunting Ali. For example, Floyd Patterson made comments regarding no Muslim should be world champion. In the fight, Ali made Patterson pay for the comments he made by delivering a ruthless beating on him. Muhammad Ali’s words and beliefs were as equally powerful as his fists, whether it was in the ring or on the microphone, Ali had the ability to deliver clear messages that still resonate in minds of people today. [4: Amid Saeed. What's in a Name? Muhammad Ali and the Politics of Cultural Identity, Sport in Society, 5:3, 52-72, Retrieved from DOI: 10.1080/911094214 (2002) (Accessed February 14th)] [5: Harrison, B. T., THE MUHAMMAD ALI DRAFT CASE AND PUBLIC DEBATE ON THE VIETNAM WAR. Peace Research, 33(2), 69–86. The Canadian Journal of Peace Studies, (2001) (Accessed February 14th)]

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Freedom of Religion

Ali would fight for his religious freedoms when he was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1966. Shortly after selection, Muhammad Ali stated that he refuses to take part in the war due to his Islam beliefs that forbid him from participating in war. These actions were not taken lightly from the United States government, who took Ali to court until 1971. Ali was also barred from boxing competition as a result of his decision not to participate in the Vietnam War. Ali lost his first trial in 1967 due to suspicion of using religion to avoid being drafted. Ali was sentenced to 5 years in prison along with a $10,000 fine. Ali would make significant process in 1970, the decision to bar Ali from competition was over turned due to the New York State Athletic commission was deemed guilty of breaching 14th Amendment Rights Equal Protection Clause. Before taking the battle back to the courtroom, Ali returned to the ring, his first fight back against Jerry Quarry, the influence and status of Ali after his trials, resulted in many international fans showing support for Ali during the fight. After an additional victory, Ali went to fight Joe Frazier in 1971. Ali ultimately lost the fight in 15 rounds through decision. Although a loss, the fight was considered one of the greatest fights of all time. His in ring success and recognition helped bring awareness to his beliefs and, was crucial in giving him such a large platform to deliver his message. Shortly after his in ring return, Ali would go back to court against the United States in the Supreme Court. The government stood strong on their stance of having doubt of sincerity of Ali’s religion. Muhammad Ali would finally win the legal batle against the United States government on June 28th, 1971 when Justice William O.Douglas ruled in favor of Ali. With the judge ruling that Ali’s First Amendment Rights were breached, this case sets precedent and, protects all Americans from unjust treatment. [6: BOWMAN, W, Feat of Clay: Muhammad Ali's Legal Fight against the Vietnam Draft. J. Supreme Court Hist., 44: 307-324. Retrieved from, doi:10.1111/jsch.12221 (2020) (Accessed February 14th)] [7: Michael Meltsner. ME AND MUHAMMAD. Marquette Sports Law Review, 12, 583–885. (2002) (Accessed February 14th)] [8: Reed, T. L. . Peace profile: Muhammad Ali. Peace Review, 16(1), 107–111. Taylor and Francis Ltd. (2004) (Accessed February 14th)]

In an attempt to help rectify the situation, President at the time Gerald Ford offered Ali to visit the White House. This visit signifies the United States government acknowledging their wrongs and admitting that they did Muhammad Ali a great disrespect by attempting to force him to take actions that were against his personal beliefs. He was honored by having a Boxing reform act named after him aimed to provide an even playing level and bring fairness to boxing. In 2000, the “Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act” was passed and while only honorary, this shows the extent and major impact that Muhammad Ali has made long passed his career. [9: Scott Baglio. THE MUHAMMAD ALI BOXING REFORM ACT: THE FIRST JAB AT ESTABLISHING CREDIBILITY IN PROFESSIONAL BOXING. Fordham Law Review, 68, 2257–2543. (2000) (Accessed February 14th)]


In conclusion, based on evidence presented that Muhammad Ali changed the landscape of the United States. Ali’s long lasting impact is a result of his championship caliber performance in life. Ali was knocked down many times by those around him, but he always got back up. Ali fought hard for justice, through multiple trials, constant disrespect and, penalties in sport. Ali fought outside the ring using his words, fighting off critics, expressing his beliefs and, pleading his case in a successful effort to exercise his freedom of religion. Ali was an outstanding human being and was truly impactful on the United States in terms of sports, politics and culture through his soft spoken words, hard hands and, a mind that is tough as they come.

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