Muhammad Ali may be most noted as a boxing champion, but by his death on June 3, 2016, he had come to exemplify so much more, evolving into an entertainment icon with a profound effect on sports and culture as we know it.
A research paper could explore the many ways that Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942, brought about social change and how he altered our view of fame, for both celebrities and ordinary people.
Muhammad Ali, more than a boxing champion
In “What does Muhammad Ali tell us about the nature of modern fame?,” for the June 11, 2016, edition of The Guardian, Sonia Sodha wrote, “The reams of obituary that have been written about Ali tell us much about the world of the 1960s and 1970s; not because he simply reflected the society he practised sport in, but because, … he catalysed social change.” During his 74 years, Muhammad Ali promoted civil rights, refused to sign up for the draft and flirted with black supremacy, all while proclaiming to anyone who would listen that he was the greatest.
But what Sodha thinks makes Muhammad Ali truly stand apart as an entertainment icon is that his status was achieved because he didn’t mirror what was commonly believed by society during his lifetime, but instead he strove to be the force that made people change their thinking. A research paper could examine in detail the areas in sports and culture that were altered due to Ali’s influence.
Influencer of sports and culture
Perhaps there is no greater indicator of the role Muhammad Ali played as an entertainment icon than the list of who’s who that attended his funeral. Among the pallbearers for the boxing champion were actor Will Smith and fellow world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis according to a Philly.com post, “Will Smith to serve as pallbearer at Muhammad Ali’s funeral” on June 7, 2016, by Nick Vadala.
Speakers at the funeral service for Muhammad Ali included comedian Billy Crystal, former President Bill Clinton, Attallah Shabazz (daughter of Malcolm X) and members of his family, as well as religious leaders. The speakers stressed Ali’s importance in promoting black pride and his unflinching efforts to speak truth to power. Other topics to cover in a research paper could examine Muhammad Ali and his relationship to civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X.
Entertainment icon to the world
Muhammad Ali was outspoken in life, claiming he was “pretty” and that he would “whup” whoever was his current opponent. His boasts were real, not just for show, and he fulfilled the promises and taunts he made. “Muhammad Ali Was a Colossus of Sports and Culture; Muhammad Ali Lived an American Life Unlike Any Other” by John Walters for June 17, 2016, edition of Newsweek, summed Ali up. “Boxing was his occupation, but Ali was a colossus of culture. He was by far the most charismatic athlete of the 20th century: passionate and ebullient, articulate and garrulous, self-absorbed but self-aware,” Walters wrote.
Muhammad Ali was a master at branding himself, using his words as well as he used those punches that made him a boxing champion. Another research paper topic could examine the way Ali changed how athletes and media figures represented themselves to their audiences, and the many ways this has shaped our cultural figures even now. This entertainment icon bridged sports and culture to craft a new form of celebrity that is still around today.
Are there other ways that Muhammad Ali influenced sports and culture, whether as a boxing champion or as an entertainment icon? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.