Pres. Obama Marks the Passing of Muhammad Ali

June 4th 2016

Dave Fonseca

President Barack Obama weighed in on the passing of Muhammad Ali in a statement that praises the boxing champion and civil rights icon for "helping us get used to the America we recognize today."


In his statement, Obama notes Ali's incredible trajectory from his days as an Olympic champion to one of the most recognizable men on Earth:

"In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden."

Obama's remarks stress that Ali's brashness and commitment to honestly describing the world was essential to steering Americans through the upheaval of the 1960s:

"That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today."

You can read President Obama's full statement here.

This is not the first time Obama has written about Ali's importance. In a 2009 op-ed celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Ali's gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the president praised Ali for his "unique ability to summon extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity, to navigate the storm and never lose his way."

He also noted Ali's very real contributions to world peace, even in the decades after his boxing career and time in the limelight passed.

"We admire the man who has never stopped using his celebrity for good — the man who helped secure the release of 14 American hostages from Iraq in 1990; who journeyed to South Africa upon Nelson Mandela's release from prison; who has traveled to Afghanistan to help struggling schools as a United Nations Messenger of Peace; and who routinely visits sick children and children with disabilities around the world, giving them the pleasure of his presence and the inspiration of his example."