“Stick to sports.” That’s a nauseating barb we hear often at Bloody Elbow.
Plenty of media outlets and personalities do just that, every day. But many others recognize that sports and politics are intrinsically linked. And many athletes over the years (and today — see: Ashlynn Dunbar) have refused to stick to sports and have instead used their platforms to push for meaningful change in the pursuit of equality and justice.
An iconic athlete who never shied away from voicing — and fighting for — what he believed in was Muhammad Ali; one of the greatest boxers to ever live.
In this debut edition of Photo Vault we showcase an image from September 1970 showing Ali marching shoulder to shoulder with members of the Black Panther Party in New York City. The photograph was taken by David Fenton.
Three years prior to this moment Ali was convicted of draft evasion after he refused to join the U.S. Army and fight in the Vietnam War. Because of his refusal, on grounds on conscientious objection, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended Ali’s boxing license. All other U.S commissions followed suit, effectively banning Ali from the sport.
In 1970 Ali’s license was reinstated by NYSAC and the Georgia commission. In 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
During his forced exile from boxing Ali made multiple appearances with the Black Panther Party and spoke at rallies decrying the Vietnam War and racial prejudice in the United States. For a more in-depth examination of this chapter of Ali’s life, read Dave Zirin’s 2016 piece Muhammad Ali and the Black Panther Party for The Nation.
And to see and hear Ali speak at a Black Panther Party rally, watch the below video provided by KQED News on YouTube:
A KQED News report from San Francisco on January 5th 1969, which features a rally and speeches in support of the Black Panther Party. Muhammad Ali is seen addressing the large crowds, pointing out that: “Those of you who are white … have many white leaders who can speak for you. You have many whites in power who have the billions and trillions of dollars to help you. But Black people also need a spokesman!” Ends with an address to supporters of Huey P. Newton by Bobby Seale.