Muhammad Ali and the sports stars who speak sense

As the boxing legend takes a swing at Donald Trump, we look at other sports stars who speak sense.

Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XIII - Show
Prize p**ck Muhammad Ali would undoubtedly have something different to say to Trump now. The pair are pictured at a celebrity fight night. Image Picture by by John Shearer/WireImage

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is the latest big name to launch an attack on Donald Trump, releasing a statement that doesn’t mention Trump by name, but makes it abundantly clear he has no time for the presidential candidate’s opposition to Muslims entering the US.

Ali’s statement was addressed to “presidential candidates proposing to ban Muslim immigration to the United States”, noting that IS scaremongering has “alienated many from learning about Islam”.

The former heavyweight champion, who has battled Parkinson’s disease for more than 30 years, also decried the acts of violence committed in the name is Islam.

“True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion,” he said. “These misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”

Ali has regularly puts many politicians, business leaders and figures of power to shame when it comes to talking sense. He’s one of many – as these examples of him and other outspoken sporting stars illustrate.

 


 

1

Ali on Vietnam

Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 after refusing the Vietnam War draft. The decision resulted in a four-year boxing ban during his peak years, but Ali steadfastly refused to compromise his religious beliefs or support the US’s involvement in the messy conflict. His words at the time resonated with those experiencing turmoil in his home country. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” he said.

 

2

Gareth Thomas on sexuality

The Welsh athlete became the first openly gay pro rugby player when he came out in 2009. Few have shown this kind of bravery, and Thomas has continued to be outspoken about his sexuality and the importance of acceptance within professional sport. Thomas admitted that coming out lifted a huge weight off his shoulders. “All the darkness I imagined there would be, all the hatred, all the negatives, just didn’t materialise,” he said. “People didn’t judge, they accepted me, which I found amazing. I can see now that my fear was something I’d created to justify lying to so many people about who I really was.”

 

3

Jesse Owens on race

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Fearless Owens let his talent do the talking. Image Picture Getty Images

The American track and field star didn’t need words to make a statement. He quashed Adolf Hitler’s notion of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games.  Owens used his victory as a platform to highlight the racial turmoil back in the US. He wasn’t invited to shake Hitler’s hand after Berlin, but he made a point of highlighting that his own president didn’t extend that courtesy either. “The only bond worth anything between human beings is their humanness,” he later said.

4

Stan Collymore on mental health

The former Liverpool and England forward has had a chequered past; facing accusations of dogging and assaulting ex-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson. However, Collymore has made strides to rehabilitate himself in recent years. He’s brutally honest about his experiences with depression, raising £20,000 for charity the Depression Alliance and offering support to Clarke Carlisle after the ex-pro’s suicide attempt in 2014. This year he also defected from Labour to the SNP in protest at the party’s vote to support airstrikes on ISIS.

 

5

Chris Froome on drugs cheats

“I know what I’ve done to get here. I’m the only one who can really say 100 per cent that I’m clean. I haven’t broken the rules. I haven’t cheated,” the British Tour de France winner said while undergoing a grueling physiology test to prove his victories came without the aid of performance-enhancers. The cycling world is rife with stories of drug cheats, but earlier this year Froome voluntarily submitted to a test to determine his VO2 max level, the rate his body can take in oxygen. Froome’s results came in at 84.6, nearly doubling the 40-50 levels for a regular active person. The stats make Froome – who strenuously denied doping – “close to human peak”.

 

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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