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Athletics and Free Speech

Social change cannot take place (is irrelevant) without a critical awareness and ever-present reminder of the core principles and fragile nature upon which democratic values rest in a free society.  The right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion are fundamentally tied to another equally important right—the freedom to dissent and speak openly about it.  Where does an audience of socially engaged and ethically responsible professional athletes, who understand and actively seek to address issues such as global sex trafficking or the use of child labor in the garment and apparel industries that are inherently tied to sports merchandise, emerge in a capitalist society?   Ali’s life and experiences in Houston provide an historic example of the sacrifice that such moral leadership requires.
At the same time, Houston represented a nexus of local realities and national attitudes toward Ali and military service.  The city’s fifth ward was home to a locally known pugilist and emerging professional star, George Foreman.  Where did Mr. Foreman stand in relation to Ali’s position on military service?  For residents of Houston’s fifth ward, did Foreman come to represent a lens through which they evaluated Muhammad Ali’s stance on Vietnam, warfare, and civic obligations?  How did this community understand Vietnam, warfare and Muhammad Ali’s opposition to military service given its immediate concerns with issues such as gentrification and urban renewal projects?  Where did its loyalties lie?  How did Ali’s religion and religious convictions impact the social and religious identities of Foreman and the community at large?  How did others involved in collegiate and professional athletics in Houston understand Ali’s sacrifice?