On the day his family laid him to rest, it is out of respect and moral obligation that we honor this pioneer.

On Friday, June 3rd, the world lost Muhammad Ali. A three-time Heavyweight Champion boxer and one of the most well-known and controversial athletes of the 20th century, Ali leaves behind a legacy that far surpasses his athletic prowess. Today, we revere and remember him as a humanitarian and source of inspiration. His strength, perseverance, and love for all people never waned.

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.”

Born Cassius Clay, he began boxing under the guidance of police officer, Joe Martin. This was only after Officer Martin helped young Clay fill out a police report for his stolen bicycle. He was determined to find the criminal, so Martin cautioned that ”You better learn to fight before you start fightin’.” Six months later, he won his debut fight and began training with a fervor. By the time he was 18, he had won his first Olympic Gold Medal in the Light Heavyweight Boxing Division. He shocked the world when he defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title and also had a famous rivalry with Joe Frazier. Ali became renowned for his brash and charismatic persona outside of the ring.

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.”

In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, Ali became a figure of controversy. His conversion to Islam and adoption of a Muslim name had alienated some of his fans. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Ali was drafted. As a conscientious objector, Ali refused to serve.  The federal government convicted him of draft evasion, had him stripped of his boxing title, sentenced him to five years in prison, and slapped him with a $10,000 fine. Despite the swift and heavy punishment, he stood fast in his conviction and refused to cower.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” 

The next four years of Muhammad Ali’s life defined him and ultimately made him a global icon. He sacrificed everything he knew, millions of dollars, and the prime years of his athletic career out of principle. His morals and beliefs could not be shaken by money or threats. He became a popular antiwar and Civil Rights speaker at college campuses around the country. His courage and defiance is legendary.

“If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs.” 

By 1970, public sentiment had changed. He was granted a license to box by the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission. He made his comeback with several fights, including “The Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier. Eight months later, the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s verdict in a unanimous decision, and he was once again allowed to box anywhere in the world. Ali’s iconic matches against George Foreman and Joe Frazier again proved his unshakable determination and power to persevere against huge odds. After winning his third heavyweight title in ’78, Ali retired after a long and illustrious career in 1981.

“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

In 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Despite this degenerative disease, Ali continued to build on his legacy. He traveled to Iraq in 1990 to negotiate the release of hostages. In 1996, his enduring strength inspired the world again when he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta. After a lifetime of standing up for the rights of all, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005.

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.” 

Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy continues to insure people around the world. It is our obligation to ensure that his legacy, spirit, and courage endure forever. As entrepreneurs, we are pioneers in our own sense. We endeavor to take on challenges that may seem insurmountable to some. While we will never likely have to face such circumstances that Ali himself conquered, we are encouraged to draw on his legend to bolster our energy, inspire perseverance, and unflagging self-confidence. #RIPChamp

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”