Boxing legend and humanitarian Muhammad Ali was awarded the Liberty Medal on Thursday night to a huge ovation in front of Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center.
The three-time heavyweight champion appeared in an outside ceremony on the mall that overlooks Independence Hall.
His wife, Lonnie, spoke on his behalf.
“All he did was stand up for what he believed. Simply stated and yes, for many of the things that he stood up for–and continues to stand up for today–it took, dedication, conviction and confidence,” said Lonnie Ali.
“These are the values that gave him the inner strength to stand up for what he believed. Many agreed with him… many more did not.”
“But regardless, just as important as his personal values and principles, was the opportunity that this country afforded him: to live in a country where the Constitution provides freedom of speech, to enable him to say what he believes. To live in a country where the Constitution protects the freedom of religion, to enable him to practice and adhere to the tenants of his faith freely without fear of persecution. To live in a country where the Constitution enabled him to challenge policies of the government that he believed were unfair. Muhammad often challenged laws, policies, and social norms in this country, but it is this country’s founding principles that enabled him to stand up for his personal principles. And for that, he is eternally grateful but aware, that these freedoms should never be taken for granted.”
While Ali is one of the world’s most famous athletes, he’s also known as a world-class humanitarian and a champion of liberty.
“Muhammad Ali is a beacon of hope, of compassion, of the goodness of humanity. And tonight, he is deeply honored, and humbled, to be a beacon of liberty,” said Lonnie Ali.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said that Ali is a figure who has literally lived the Constitution.
“We recognize a man who lived the First Amendment in and out of the ring,” said Corbett. “His role in history came by becoming a milepost in our nation’s journey toward making the Constitution come to life for all Americans.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said that Ali is an enduring inspiration.
“When athletes come from humble beginnings to achieve greatness, it serves as an inspiration to all of us,” Nutter said. “Unlike athletes and other public icons who have their moment in the sun and then slip quietly away, Muhammad Ali continues, to this day, to inspire young people throughout the world.”
Ali’s work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when Ali flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. Ali also has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered medical aid to Cuba; traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet another Liberty Medal winner, Nelson Mandela, upon his release from prison.
Ali also was involved in the recent efforts to free the American hikers held captive in Iran.
Ali is the 24th recipient of the medal. Previous winners include many of the men, women, and organizations that have shaped and guided the world through the past two decades, including Mandela, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kofi Annan, Shimon Peres, and Colin Powell.
In November 2005, Ali and his wife Lonnie also opened the Muhammad Ali Center in their hometown of Louisville.
For more on Ali and the Liberty Medal, visit constitutioncenter.org/libertymedal/recipient_2012.html
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