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Muhammad Ali

A Controversial Champ

Something else happened in Miami in 1964. Inspired by Malcolm X, Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam, and renounced his "slave name" in favor of Muhammad Ali, "Beloved of Allah." The name had been personally bestowed upon him by Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. Realizing how this would affect people's view of him, he kept his conversion secret before the match, fearing the news might cost him his shot at the title. But soon after the fight, he went public with the news.

For many Americans this seemed like some kind of betrayal. Black Muslims were often feared and hated, as radicals, as dangerous, as un-American. And now the heavyweight champ, the beloved Cassius Clay was one of them. Or rather Muhammad Ali, a name that sounded foreign, maybe subversive, to Americans in the 1960s. And then Muhammad Ali came out against the Vietnam War, refusing to even consider going over there if he was drafted.

Ali's remarks caused a national uproar. In April of 1967, when he refused induction into the U.S. Army, on religious grounds, politicians and veterans groups called for his imprisonment. In fact, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to five years in prison, but he was freed pending appeal. Then boxing officialdom stepped in. The World Boxing Association stripped him of his heavyweight title, and the New York State Athletic Commission banned him from boxing. Every other state commission soon joined them. Muhammad Ali was suddenly out of a title and out of a job.

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Famous Sports StarsBoxingMuhammad Ali Biography - A Stolen Bicycle, The Louisville Lip, A Controversial Champ, In And Out Of The Wilderness - SELECTED WRITINGS BY ALI: