The Reid Report   |  March 03, 2014

How Ali used his athlete-status for advocacy

Rasheda Ali and David Zirin join Joy Reid to discuss the 50 year anniversary of Ali vs. Liston. What’s Ali’s legacy? What's changed for African-American athletes since he stepped into the ring?

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> today, 22-year-old cassius clay stepped into the boxing center at the miami beach boxing center and shook up the world. after he knocked out charles sonny liston in an emic bout in miami deep. the greatest sports moment of the 20th century . gloves that ali wore on that historic night sold at auction for $876,000 last weekend. evidence of the enduring impact he and that fight had on sports and the world but it was what cassius clay did outside the ring that made him more than just a boxing legend. just one week after beating sonny liston clay shocked the world again by changing his name to muhammad ali and joining the nation of islam . he became inseparable from his beliefs, his close relationship with malcolm x and the stand against the vietnam war . a stand which he was stripped of his boxing title for refusing to submit to the draft. by the late 1960s , ali had become a living embodiment of the proposition that principles matter. his power no longer resided in his fists. came from his conscience. and that matter of kns bears examination at a time when the world in and outside of sports are struggling with civil rights . the nfl is proposing a penalty for use the "n" word on the field. one by one players are coming out being hope with their sexuality. and we're struggling with gun rights and human laws and the laws that make young men feel unsafe walk the street. rashidah ali is one of ali 's daughters and dave zion. thank you both for being here.

>> thank you for having me. congratulations on your new show. i used to watch you on chris matthews .

>> indeed. your dad used his position. i think what's important about him the use of that position to make statements about modern day culture. what are some of the lessons that he taught you and how do you apply them to the situation today? especially when you look at things like jordan davis, trayvon martin, et cetera ?

>> well my dad was one of the first african- americans to come out in the '60s, of course, there was a huge segregation, and a big civil rights battle going on so when my dad came on the forefront, one, he was trying to market himself as a heavyweight champion. and he had just won the medal but he was also very confident. he was educated. he was handsome, he was just unlike what the world had ever seen, especially african- americans . so he kind of gave african- americans a new sense of who they are, and a belief system and a confidence that no one's ever seen before. so him being the first one to come out and do that, he kind of stood in the forefront of whatever he was doing to kind of speak on behalf of other african- americans and minorities alike.

>> and dave , i think that say key point about ali . that he really was different than the sports figure that african- american sports figures people were accustomed to. he really did shock people at the time.

>> absolutely. he was ahead of his time. they called him louisville lip , cash the brass, and cassius. he was a young african-american athlete who wasn't shy about saying how pretty he was and would not close his mouth. people have to understand the differences between 1960 and 1968 were not just eight years, it was a lifetime in the political history of this country. to have someone in 1960 who was already starting to speak terms that would later become familiar like black is beautiful . and i don't have to be who you want me to be. and no vee vietnamese ever called me the "n" word.

>> that last statement about no vietnamese ever calling him an "n" word. but how do you feel about the nfl actually having to fine people for using the "n" word on the field?

>> i think it's silly. well, it just depends on who you're using it. i'm an advocate you can use it if you're black, it's totally inappropriate if you're not. it's a sense of culture, young kids use that word as a rite of passage . they use it all the time as in brother, as in friend. and most white america doesn't use it in those terms. i think that's why most people find it offensive.

>> may i say something, i would never deem to speak for muhammad ali , but when i went to the ali center in louisville, there are a lot of pictures of muhammad ali 's solidarity with native- american people . i would think he would look at this how is it you can have a deem in washington named after a racial slur for native- americans but punish young african- americans for how they speak to each other.

>> well said, david. let me start with rashida first. just the idea of an athlete take a chance on not only their title but the condemnation in the sports world for take strong stand on the issue. do you, does your dad think there's not a lot of that going on an athletes right now or in the right place?

>> i think my dad was the first athlete to stand against. he used boxing as a platform to protest against the unjust vietnam war . as well as, you know, the segregation. his people at that time were being mistreated and it was horrible. and he was their voice. and i think then he felt on their behalf. and he gave black people confidence and other minorities confidence to come out and not about afraid of what people would say. and i think now athletes -- i think people are still afraid to come out and speak against injustices and crime and things that are just not good to african- americans . and i think he was brave then. i think a lot of athletes now feel like it's more important just to be an athlete than a star. and less important about their social consciousness .

>> dave , i'm curious when you can foresee a time in boxing or the with the nfl happening, meaning opening gay, prize fighter , boxer, coming out as gay in that sport?

>> well, yeah, a young prize fighter did come out of the closet last year. i'm sorry that i'm blanking on his name. a puerto rican fighter. he fought last year in one of the lower weights and the crowd was actually very receptive and kind to him. i think what you said in the last segment is absolutely true, joy. other than insurgents, this battle is over. as martin luther king said the arc of history bends towards justice.

>> thank you for being here.

>> thanks for having me.