Jim Brown Awarded The Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, Sparks ‘Ali Summit’ Nostalgia
BY: John “Hennry” Harris
Muhammad Ali is revered as one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all times, but that pales in comparison to the man that Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, was in real life.
Brash, polarizing, honest and controversial, Ali is highly regarded for the values that he exemplified (even amplified) outside of the ring – whether he was addressing religious freedom, racial justice or injustice and the triumph of principle over expedience.
Muhammad Ali refused induction into the Army to fight in the Vietnam War and he turned to Cleveland Brown football great Jim Brown for help. Brown, an imposing and polarizing figure in sports himself, rounded up a group of their eras top Black athletes (including Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in June 1967 and after a two-hour meeting with Ali, who cited his religious beliefs in refusing to join the military, Ali had the public support of his fellow-athletes at a time when Muhammad Ali was considered a public enemy and a traitor.
That meeting became known as the “Ali Summit” and nearly 50 years later several participants of that meeting were once again at Ali’s side in his hometown of Louisville, KY as Jim Brown received a lifetime humanitarian achievement award that bears Ali’s name.
The Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award winners included Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon and Grammy Award-winning rapper Common. Six young adults from around the world were also honored for their humanitarian roles in their communities.
But much of the spotlight centered around that meeting nearly 50 years ago in Cleveland, and how that select group of athletes supported Ali while he was in the fight of his life. Several of the meetings participants met at the Muhammad Ali Center a few hours before the awards event. Ali, met with the group shortly as well.
“No one had really sat down and listened to him and given him the respect of having him tell his point of view,” Brown said in recalling the 1967 meeting.
Former NFL player John Wooten, another meeting participant, said Ali’s questioners “came at him with everything.” The man known for his brashness in the ring was humble when explaining his reasons, he said.
It was enough to win over another participant, former NFL player Bobby Mitchell.
“I came there ready to try to talk him into going into the service,” Mitchell said Saturday. “I actually felt that way. He whipped my behind pretty quick, because he can talk. But when it was all over, I felt good about walking out of there saying, `We back him.'” (espn.go.com)
“It was the United States government that we were dealing with,” Brown said Saturday. “Careers were at stake. And everybody that showed up at that meeting put all of that on the line. That was heavyweight stuff.”
Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and thrown in jail while still in his prime in 1967. Ali was convicted of draft evasion after refusing to recognize him as a conscientious objector until his case was overturned in 1971 by the U.S. Supreme Court. His actions as a conscientious objector to the war solidified Ali as a worldwide icon and fighter for peace.
Brown also is and has been an outspoken civil-rights advocate who still pushes to improve education of Black men and to uplift impoverished neighborhoods, declined to compare athletes of his day and to the modern athlete.
“I’m here to motivate as many people as I can in this country to take a look at the violence … and the inferior education that a lot of our kids are getting,” he said.
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