Muhammad Ali is considered the best boxer of all-time. Due to his impact in multiple ways, Cleveland, Ohio serves as a special place in historical life.
The sports world lost a giant late Friday night. Former boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali died of a respiratory illness at the age of 74 and the loss has been felt nearly everywhere. Social media has been littered with regrets and sports networks have been covering the loss nearly non-stop since his death was announced.
But for Cleveland fans, this loss brings back an incredible event from the summer of 1967. Billed at the “Ali Summit”, NFL legend and Cleveland Browns icon Jim Brown opened the doors to the Black Economic Union in downtown Cleveland, Ohio to Muhammad Ali and other prominent athletes.
At this time, Brown had been retired for only a brief time and was becoming far more active in social causes. When Ali refused to accept his military service, Brown felt compelled to organize the meeting to determine if other athletes could rally behind a sincere belief or a simple refusal.
Cleveland at the time was a perfect place for this meeting, and not just because of Brown. The Hough Riots had occurred just a year earlier.
Carl Stokes was rising to prominence and later would become the first black mayor of a major U.S. city in 1967. Cleveland’s sports teams had been on the leading edge of breaking down racial barriers, with the likes of Brown and Marion Motley.
More from Factory of Sadness
- Bet $1 on ANYTHING to Unlock $200 Guaranteed with Crazy Bet365 Ohio Promo!
- 3 reasons why the Cleveland Cavaliers have a good shot to win the East next year
- It might be too soon to say it but it looks like the Cleveland Guardians are back
- Are the Cleveland Browns a Top 10 roster heading into the 2023 season?
- Eastern Conference Solidarity: Back the Heat with $5 Bet, Win $200 Bonus INSTANTLY with DraftKings Promo
The list of attendees at the Ali Summit was a veritable Mount Rushmore of athletes. NBA greats Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, were there. Joining Brown were Bobby Mitchell and Sid Williams in attendance. Bob Arum, the legendary boxing promoter, was also was there.
There is so much more to tell about the story, but the main issue of the meeting was not necessarily to show support for Muhammad Ali. The rest, they say, is history.
Ali ultimately stood his ground, being stripped of his titles and losing some of his prime years in a legal fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court. At a time when this country was as divided as ever on issues of race, the Vietnam War, and yes, even Islam, it was Ali that shouldered the burden.
It was unheard of at that time for an athlete to stand as strongly and publicly for a cause the way that Ali did. We have the good fortune to look back at Vietnam with the clarity of hindsight, but to stand up and defy the political pressure the way Ali did was considered a despicable and treasonous act.
Regardless, Muhammad Ali was the greatest fighter that ever lived. He was a three-time world champion and an Olympic Gold Medalist. Ali earned his first title at the age of 22.
His unmatched combination of speed and power could not be countered until the very end of his career when age had sapped him of his abilities. Ali provided sports history with one of the greatest photos of all time in 1965, when he defeated Sonny Liston with his right arm flexed upward and eyes glaring down at the fallen former champ.
In terms of impact both in his arena and out of it, only NBA great Michael Jordan competes with Muhammad Ali’s greatness. Who knew a meeting in Cleveland would help solidify that status.
Say what you will about Muhammad Ali’s defiance of Vietnam, style, bravado, way of being a showman and as a fighter. Ali is the definitive American athlete and perhaps the greatest performer of any sport in any way of any era in American history. Rest in peace, The Greatest.