- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2016

President Obama praised the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali Saturday as a man “who fought for what was right” in the civil rights era.

Muhammad Ali was The Greatest,” Mr. Obama said in a joint statement with first lady Michelle Obama. “He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”

Ali died Friday at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said he keeps a pair of the boxer’s gloves in his private study in the West Wing, displayed beneath a famous photo of him defeating Sonny Liston in a prize fight when he was just 22 years old.

At the time of that fight, the president said, Ali had “yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.”

“His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground,” Mr. Obama said, calling him, “a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us.”

The president said Ali “wasn’t perfect.”

“For all his magic in the ring, he could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved,” Mr. Obama said. “But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes – maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves. Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world.”

The president said he and his wife are “grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while.”

“Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing,” he said.

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