06/07/2016 11:08 EDT | Updated 06/08/2017 05:12 EDT

Muhammad Ali Taught Us Principles Are Worth Fighting For

muhammad ali draft

June 30, 1970 - Muhammad Ali fights Ed Brook in his first appearance since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction of draft evasion.

Muhammad Ali was not one of the greatest athletes or boxers of all time. As George Foreman recently said, that would be too small a box to put him in. Rather, Ali was one of the greatest human beings of all time.

What made Ali great was not his boxing skills, chiseled looks or mercurial eloquence. What made him great was the nobility of his character; his courage to speak truth to power and stand up for what he believed in. No matter the cost.

Many forget that when Ali refused the draft in 1967 he was the undisputed heavy weight champion of the world. Undefeated and having successfully defended his title seven times that year, Ali had attained a level of notoriety commensurate with Elvis Presley and the Pope. On the eve of his conscription to the army at age 25, the best years of his life lay before him. Ali was poised to increase his fortunes from the boxing world to his bank account and beyond. All he had to do was accept a cushy army job (much like other athletes did at the time) and keep his nose to the grindstone.

But Ali wouldn't. He could not stand the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom against people half a world away, when in his own backyard African Americans were denied their basic freedoms. A fierce advocate of civil rights, Ali was willing to give up everything he had sacrificed, trained and toiled for, at the peak of his power, to uphold the principles he believed in. He was willing to contest the laws of the land he loved, to obey a higher law and his own moral conscience.

"We become heroes when we stand up for what we believe in," Ali once said. His words were prophetic.

Now ask yourself: How many politicians and CEOs, or athletes and celebrities, would give up their star on the Hollywood walk of fame or a smidgen of their inflated salaries to defend their values? How many would put their reputation and bank account on the line and accept jail time for social justice?

Ali's legacy therefore reminds us what true heroism and greatness is all about; not celebrity and power, but the willingness to give it all up for principles. Let his legacy help us reflect on our own lives and times, and inform the decisions we make and the people we choose to elect and elevate.

With that said, I've listed below six great but lesser-known quotes from Ali that speak volumes of his character and spirit. Some may even surprise you.

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

2) When I feel pain, that's when I start counting, because that's when it really counts. ‪

3) If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you. ‪

4) Make progress, not excuses.

5) To be able to give away riches is mandatory if you wish to possess them.

6) He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. Be among those who dare to dare.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook


Muhammad Ali Through The Years