Before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, before Dwyane Wade and LeBron James wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts to warm up, and before John Carlos and Tommie Smith rose their fists at the ’68 Olympics, there was Muhammad Ali.
Apart from his accomplishments inside the ring, Ali is perhaps best known for taking a stand outside of it. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, he refused to be drafted into the Army. As a devout Muslim and prominent member of the Nation of Islam, Ali opposed the war on religious grounds. Not only was the champ convicted of draft evasion, but his refusal to fight in Vietnam would end up costing him his titles and his prime years as a fighter.
It was during this time that Ali met with Martin Luther King Jr., who also opposed the war.
“It was a joyous occasion, because he appreciated Dr. King’s work, and the reciprocal was true,” says Jesse Jackson, who worked closely with King.
“[Ali] set the pace for athletes to be principled,” Jackson says. “The drum major for athletes and entertainers was Ali.”
Fusion is the media partner for the 2016 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards.