In 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army. His anti-war convictions stemming from his Muslim faith, and his status as a minister, he argued, exempted him from the draft; the courts disagreed. Ali was thereafter banned from boxing in the United States and stripped of his world heavyweight title by the World Boxing Association. Here, Ali is confronted by students who berate him for refusing the draft, and he responds.
Yet despite public outrage and criticism, Ali’s objections found famous support. As Dr. Martin Luther King began to voice public opposition to the war in early 1967, he - in spite of his strained relationship with the Nation of Islam - explicitly echoed Ali: “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.”
Famed sportscaster Howard Cosell argued that “They took away his livelihood because he failed the test of political and social conformity… Nobody says a damn word about the professional football players who dodged the draft, but Muhammad was different. He was black, and he was boastful.”
One of the principal demands of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), an organization that included Tommie Smith and John Carlos - whose Black Power salutes at the 1968 Olympic Games similarly shattered the illusory separation of politics, race, and sport - was the restoration of Ali’s heavyweight title. Harry Edwards, a key architect of the OPHR, proclaimed Ali “the warrior saint in the revolt of the black athlete in America.”
In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction and his denial by the lower courts of conscientious objector status.