5 ways Muhammad Ali changed the world

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5 ways Muhammad Ali changed the world

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Few words are needed in order to describe the life and legacy of perhaps the greatest athlete ever, Muhammad Ali, who died at the age of 74. (Video by Ryon Horne/AJC, "Our Story Begins" Kevin MacLeod)

Muhammad Ali is often referred to as the greatest and most famous athlete in history. Here are five ways he influenced the world, inside and outside the ring:

Sports: Ali left an indelible mark on the sport of boxing, the likes of which may never be replicated. As a boxer, Ali was quick and graceful on his feet and his unique fighting style broke all of the traditional rules of the sport. His superior boxing were never in question (56-5 record with 37 knockouts; three-time world heavyweight champion; gold medal at 1960 Olympics), but his brash style made him a polarizing figure for fans. He liked to quote poetic lines like, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," and declared after his first title fight victory over Sonny Liston, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world."

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Ali is sometimes referred to as GOAT, which stands for Greatest of All Time. Boxing experts often refer to him as the greatest heavyweight of all time.

Religion: Ali was born Cassius Clay Jr., but changed his name when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. The boxer's decision to join the black separatist movement shocked many fans. He cited his religion when refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. His conscientious objector convictions cost him dearly. He was arrested, his boxing license was suspended and he lost his heavyweight title.  

Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, but never served time while the conviction was appealed. The conviction was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. Ali became an outspoken war critic, which cost him some fans, who believed he was a draft dodger. But as the war dragged on, sentiment changed and Ali's popularity grew once again.

Ali converted to Sunni, a form of Islam, in 1975 and in 2005, one of his daughters said he was following Sufism, a more mystical form of Islam.

>>Photos: Muhammad Ali through the years

Civil rights: Like in all areas of his life, Ali pushed racial boundaries by embracing black pride and being an outspoken civil rights advocate. From his bragging in the ring, to his adopted religion and criticism of the war and government,  Ali challenged the status quo. He also served as an inspiration for other black people to challenge the establishment.

Humanitarian: Despite his relentless nature in the ring, Ali supported peace in the world. In 1990, during the Gulf War, Ali met with then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to negotiate for the release of American hostages. Ali also served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Ali made humanitarian trips to Cuba in 1998 and 1996. He donated over one million dollars in medical aid to the country as a protest against the U.S. economic embargo. 

When he opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2005, he said it was intended to be more than a place to house his memorabilia. He wanted the center to inspire people to be the best they can be and be respectful of one another.

In 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Parkinson's advocacy: Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984. It is possible that Ali's exposure to repeated head trauma during his boxing career played a factor in his diagnosis. He established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix and held fundraisers to support the center that offers cutting-edge therapies.

Ali has not shied away from the spotlight since his diagnosis, which over the years has limited his ability to speak and move. Ali even had a Twitter account, where he occasionally shared thoughts. His decision to go public with his battle with Parkinson's has helped raise awareness of the condition.


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