By Stacy M. Brown (The Washington Informer, NNPA Member)
Muhammad Ali’s historic win against George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974 was perhaps the greatest of all of his ring victories. Ali dropped Foreman in the eighth round of that heavyweight bout known as “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Foreman was among the first to pay homage to the fallen champion when news of his death spread late Friday evening on June 3. He was 74.
“It’s been said it was ‘rope a dope,’ Ali beat me with,” Foreman tweeted. “No his beauty that beat me. The most beauty I’ve know loved him.”
Early Saturday morning, Mike Tyson tweeted, “God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli #TheGreatest #RIP”
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) June 4, 2016
After a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, the world-renowned champion died at a Phoenix, Arizona-area hospital. The iconic sports figure was fighting respiratory issues that were complicated by the Parkinson’s that he was diagnosed with in the 1980s, the Associated Press reported. Ali had been hospitalized several times in recent years.
Boxing great and former world champion Sugar Ray Leonard, said that he woke up Saturday morning with a tear streaming down his cheek. His heart ached. In a statement, Ray said that he admired, idolized and loved Muhammad Ali.
“My true feelings have not totally surfaced yet, because no one beats Muhammad Ali. So to continue his journey I will thank God for bringing this incredible man into my life! RIP Champ,” said Ray.
In a press statement, Ali’s family said his funeral would be held in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. In a statement, Ali’s family also thanked the public for the outpouring of support.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in Ali’s honor.
“The values of hard work, conviction and compassion that Muhammad Ali developed while growing up in Louisville helped him become a global icon,” Fischer said in statement released on Twitter. “As a boxer, he became ‘The Greatest,’ though his most lasting victories happened outside the ring. Muhammad leveraged his fame as a platform to promote peace, justice and humanitarian efforts around the world, while always keeping strong ties to his hometown.”
Fischer continued: “Today, Muhammad Ali’s fellow Louisvillians join the billions whose lives he touched worldwide in mourning his passing, celebrating his legacy, and committing to continue his fight to spread love and hope. Thank you, Muhammad, for all you’ve given your city, your country and the world.”
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama also paid tribute to Ali.
“Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing,” Obama said in a statement. The president said he keeps a pair of Ali’s gloves on display in his White House study. “But, we’re grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all area that ‘The Greatest’ chose to grace our time.”
As beautifully chronicled by journalist Maureen Callahan in a 2015 New York Post article, defying the American government, Ali traveled to Iraq, where 15 Americans were being held hostage by Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Gulf War: “As with much in Ali’s life, his mission was misconstrued and criticized. President George H.W. Bush did not approve. ‘I basically believe these people are playing into the propaganda game that Iraq is holding here,’ said Joseph Wilson, then the top American diplomat in Baghdad. ‘These people traveling to Iraq are making a serious mistake.’”
The New York Times also took jabs at the champ over his efforts to free the hostages.
Philip Shenon wrote in The New York Times: “Surely the strangest hostage-release campaign of recent days has been the ‘good-will tour’ of Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight boxing champion…he has attended meeting after meeting in Baghdad despite his frequent inability to speak clearly.”
At that point, Ali was 48 years old and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for six years. One week into his rescue mission in Iraq, Ali ran out of his Parkinson’s medication, the New York Post reported.
According to the New York Post: “’He could barely get out of bed,’ Vernon Nored, [who was Ali’s liaison from the U.S. Embassy], told ‘30 for 30.’ ‘He couldn’t stand up. And he couldn’t talk, because his voice wouldn’t go above a whisper.’”
Against overwhelming odds and outside pressure, Ali secured the release of all 15 American hostages.
“Muhammad Ali was not only a champion in the boxing ring, but he was a champion of human and civil rights,” said G. K. Butterfield, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “During a difficult time in American history he stood on principle to end racism and bigotry. In doing so, Ali showed the world how a true champion can stand with courage, self-respect, and dignity.
Butterfield added: “Muhammad Ali made a considerable impact on the world and his spirit and his work will live on for generations to come. On behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, we send our deepest condolences to his family, and we mourn the loss of a true American hero.”
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) also released a statement mourning Ali.
“We extend to the Ali family our heartfelt condolences. Representing the Black Press in America and throughout the world, the NNPA affirms Muhammad Ali’s outstanding world-class achievement, leadership and courage in boxing, human rights and philanthropy,” said NNPA President Dr. Benjamin Chavis.
Chavis continued: “Ali personified power and genius in the ongoing cause and struggle for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment. We now rededicate to keep his audacious voice and powerful legacy alive in all that we say, print, report and distribute. Long live the spirit of Muhammad Ali.”