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Remembering Muhammad Ali

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Sunday, 12 Jun 2016 09:23 AM Current | Bio | Archive

I had the privilege of meeting Muhammad Ali twice. Once when we were disagreeing with my father and years later after his death.

The first time was in 1967 when Ali was visiting California. It was a difficult time for the defending champ. He had announced his conversion and membership in the Nation of Islam, a controversial black separatist religious movement led by the equally controversial Elijah Muhammad.

As a result of his conversion Ali refused to register for the draft and serve in the armed forces. It was a decision that came from conviction. It also resulted in conviction, but more on that later. Had Ali been drafted there was no chance he would have been sent to Vietnam to fight, unless it was in defense of his heavyweight title.

He would have competed for the Army as many other athletes have done over the years. Instead it was a refusal based on principle and he paid a heavy price. My father, who was governor of California at the time, criticized Ali along with many other elected officials. In the end he was stripped of his title and unable to fight for three years.

Ali recounts our meeting in his autobiography. I greeted him in a hotel and said I supported his decision with regard to the draft. The champ asked my name and I replied, “Michael Reagan.” Ali replied, “The only Reagan I know is Ronald Reagan” and went on to remark that Dad was, as John Gizzi termed it, “blasting him over the draft.”

I said that’s my dad.

But my father and the champ didn’t stay on opposite sides, which is one of the ways they were similar: Neither were grudge holders. In 1984 after Jesse Jackson dropped out of the presidential race, Ali endorsed my dad for re–election saying, “He’s keeping God in schools and that’s enough.”

The last time I saw the champ was in 2007, after my father’s death, yet the event again involved the Reagans. This time it was my grandmother. I presented the “Nelle Reagan Award” — named after her — to Ali for recognition of his work with patients and the seriously ill.

At that time he wasn’t physically the man he had been at our first meeting. His body was ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, but as the award proved his humanity was not only intact, but even larger than before.

I’m glad I had two opportunities to be with the champ. He will be missed.

Michael Reagan, the eldest son of President Reagan, is a Newsmax TV analyst. A syndicated columnist and author, he chairs The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Michael is an in-demand speaker with Premiere speaker’s bureau. Read more reports from Michael Reagan — Go Here Now.

© Mike Reagan

 
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I had the privilege of meeting Muhammad Ali twice.
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2016-23-12
Sunday, 12 Jun 2016 09:23 AM
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