“To be a real champion you have to believe in yourself when nobody else is.”
– Joe Louis
Joe Louis, heavyweight boxing champion for 12 consecutive years (1937-1949), certainly knew what he was talking about. Back then, being an African American boxer made life not easier. Joe Louis had to face other battlefields besides boxing. In his time, the racial injustice was remarkable – segregation and discrimination against Afro-Americans were omnipresent in public areas. However, Joe Louis was convinced that one thing is needed to succeed,
“You have to believe in yourself when nobody else is!”
This quote might exactly be the reason why Joe Louis managed to emerge as one of the first African American athletes to break the sport’s color barrier.
As I was meditating on this quote, another great boxing champion came to my mind. He is considered to be the greatest of all time and his name is Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali. He was not only known for his remarkable boxing style. Muhammad Ali was also an amazing orator, using the official press conferences as a personal stage to showcase this obvious talent. One of his trademark quotes describes perfectly his boxing style,
“Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!”
Through stunning footwork, quickness and endurance, Ali knocked out “Great Champions” like Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and many more. Back then, he was the man to beat. However, times were not always rosy. During the time of the Vietnam War, he declined the military service. This was regarded as high treason. Therefore, Ali not only lost his heavyweight championship and boxing license, he was also facing the possibility to be sent to prison. During those desperate and nerve wracking days, this boxer stood up to his beliefs, instead of listening to the advice or critical voices of others.
In acting this way, this boxing legend showed the whole world that he could not only fight with his hands. Once again, this amazing athlete proved a point through his eloquence. This is a short list of his controversial quotes:
“No Vietcong ever called me a Nigger!”
“I’m not boxing any more. I now face another heavy weight, I’m now fighting the U.S. Government.”
“So what?! I ain’t got to be what nobody else wants me to be. And I ain’t afraid to be what I want to be.”
“Now I shall stand up and fight for a government that doesn’t care about my people?!”
No, it was not cowardice that held Muhammad Ali back from going to war in Vietnam. In fact, it was a courageous and compassionate act. Comparable to Bill Russell, he cared selflessly about his people. And he did it by using his status and fame to send a message. In the years of living in boxing abstinence, he fought another, far more important battle; the battle for his people. He always said that he was the “People´s champ!” and proved it in an impressive way.
In the end, Ali was pardoned by the supreme court, winning maybe the most important fight of his life – and it was a win that serves as an example to stand up for one’s convictions. And, maybe it is because of his extraordinary successes in the boxing ring that makes you agree that Ali is the greatest boxer of all time, but actually it is the fact that he really lived up to the words of Joe Louis, because he believed in himself when nobody else did. This story teaches us a lot:
– It teaches us to have faith in ourselves even when the flow is going against us.
– It teaches us to stand up for which is right.
– It teaches us to keep going, even when times are hard; knowing that the rewards are far higher than the actual risk.
In closing this chapter, let me finish with a final thought:
In believing in ourselves, in standing up for that which is right and in holding on, even when times are difficult, we encourage others to do the same – just like Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.
– “Faithbook – Inspiration through Quotes, Notes & Poems”, Martin L. Stern