In March of 1966, the U.S. began escalating its plans to wage war in a country called Vietnam. A country most Americans, at the time, had never heard of.
The goal was to prevent what many conservatives called the “domino theory,” in which Vietnam’s fall to communism would result in a cascading political shift within the region resulting in more communist regimes thereby creating a national security threat against America and its allies.
This theory had no basis in reality, but three different presidents (two Democrats and one Republican) subscribed to it none the less.
President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and President Richard Nixon all played their parts in dragging America into what would be known as the greatest blunder in U.S. military history, costing over 50,000 American deaths and millions of Vietnamese deaths.
And during the Vietnam War, the military needed as many bodies it could get to fight in the war, so it re-instated conscription for men between the ages of 18 to 25 years of age under the guise of what they called the “Draft Lottery.”
One of the unfortunate men called to serve under this lottery was the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of The World Muhammad Ali, who made it very clear that he had no intention of fighting in the Vietnam war.
Back in 1962, Ali’s Army-tested IQ score was below draft which was below draft minimum at the time, however in 66′ the Army revised their standards making the heavyweight champion eligible for full service.
Ali was the first champion to break a long tradition of boxers answering the call to serve in the military during a war. Former champions Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis served in WWII. And other famous sports figures such as Major League Baseball players like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio served.
So for a man in Ali’s position to stand up to the U.S. government and refuse to fight in Vietnam was unprecedented. His refusal to serve shocked and angered many white conservatives who called for the champion to be stripped of his title, jailed and banned from boxing; which is exactly what happened.
Ali was arrested in 67′ for draft dodging. All of his state boxing licenses and titles were stripped. He was also banned from fighting in the U.S. and abroad for three years. Courts levied a fine against the champ for $10,000, and he was sentenced to five years in prison. However, Ali managed to avoid prison as he appealed the court’s decision over the course of the next four years.
On June 8, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his draft evasion conviction.
Sadly almost 45 years to the day, Muhammad Ali lost his long battle with Parkinson’s Disease on June 3, 2016.
During his prime, Ali had a lot more haters than admirers. And while today, most of the world mourn his passing, there are still remnants of ignorance determined to drag his name through the mud.
Fortunately, the champ had outstanding answers for his Vietnam critics back then. Answers which also speak directly to haters living today.
While many rich white draft dodgers quietly avoided service, Ali stood tall like a true champion despite the fact that most of his country stood against his decision.
Muhammad Ali was far from a perfect man, but his courage, integrity, and confidence will live on to inspire millions long after his critics have turned to dust. And that’s why he will always be the Greatest of All Time.
Featured Image via YouTube.