I was reading Philly.com today (yes, I do read other newspapers and check out other websites) and I saw that they ran an editorial concerning the selection of former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali to receive the 2012 Liberty Medal.
Judging by the responses to the editorial I found two very interesting things: first, most people don’t think Ali was the best choice and second, the Liberty Medal has become somewhat of a joke.
Let’s address the second thing first.
The first Liberty Medal was awarded in 1989 and its past recipients include Nelson Mandela, Sandra Day O’Connor, Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev. Nice company there. Add Colin Powell in there and the list stays strong.
Throw in CNN International and Bono and I would have to agree that the medal has at times gone a little off course.
Add Ali to the list and you should expect an uproar.
Here’s the deal in a nutshell:
Ali forty years ago or more refused to fight the Vietnam War. In 1967 he declared himself a conscientious objector. Now you can argue that Ali converted to the Muslim faith and made the choice not to go to war based on his religious beliefs.
Or you can say he was an arrogant, self-absorbed pro boxer who was probably afraid of one, getting shot and killed in a land halfway around the globe or two, knew the interruption in his boxing career was going to cost him millions.
Now the Ali supporters will say he deserves the medal because he stood up for his religious principles while his non-supporters will call him a coward and say his decision could have cost one more U.S. young man to be killed or wounded.
Here’s the Philly.com editorial:
“The selection of boxing legend Muhammad Ali to receive the 2012 Liberty Medal has sparked debate, given his refusal four decades ago to fight in the Vietnam War. But his standing up for religious principles only makes the award more appropriate.
“The boxer known more now for his advocacy of civil rights at home and abroad has been an ardent promoter of world peace and humanitarian causes. A sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, he also has helped raise funds for the Special Olympics and for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Research Center in Phoenix.
“As a conscientious objector in 1967, Ali demonstrated attributes that make the case for his being the choice of the National Constitution Center to honor a person who has exemplified values that this country holds in high regard.
“His decision to refuse induction came after Ali had converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name from Cassius Clay Jr. He was subsequently stripped of the heavyweight boxing crown. But Ali held firm to his convictions and eventually won a lengthy legal battle to have his boxing license restored. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court voided his five-year prison sentence for draft evasion.
“Ali not only regained his heavyweight boxing title; he rose to even greater heights among sports giants in winning several legendary matches, including the so-called “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975 against Philadelphia boxing great Joe Frazier. Ali retired from the ring in 1981.
“Ali, 70, will receive the Liberty Medal in a Sept. 13 ceremony. His wife, Yolanda, is expected to make remarks on behalf of Ali, whose speech has been affected by Parkinson’s.
“First awarded in 1989, the prize’s recipients include Nelson Mandela, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bono, and Colin Powell.”
I suppose my being cynical comes from my impression of anyone in Hollywood or pro sports who says they stand for anything. They to me are all mostly full of bull. They’re taking one position one day and something different the next. It’s all about fame and fortune.
I have met and known lots of men and women who have served our country. I respect all servicemen and women, firefighters and cops. I made sure someone took a picture of me and a member of the NYPD on my recent trip.
And I know if I was asked to serve my country I probably would not have and not because I was using religion as an excuse. I would have honestly said I would be scared to die. And that’s wrong I know. But I would have been honest and said that – or if I was Ali I would have said I’m afraid to die and also I will lose millions.
But that sort of position and stance would never earn you the respect of your fellow man and certainly not a medal.
So there you have it. Ali a hero or fake? Only you can decide.
— Andy Hachadorian