On Friday, three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74. Ali was revered not only for his outstanding, odds-defying performance in the ring but his devotion to political activism and, later, his work raising awareness for Parkinson's Disease. To say he was one of the most dynamic and inspiring athletes in U.S. history doesn't even begin to capture his story. You could spill plenty of ink on Ali (as I'm sure many of us will) and never come close to illustrating his complete legacy — but this image of Muhammad Ali captures the combination of controversy and admiration he faced throughout his life.
For the April 1968 issue of Esquire magazine, art director George Lois designed a cover featuring Ali as St. Sebastian. Standing in his boxing attire, arrows stick out of his chest, abdomen, and legs while blood trickles out. His head tilts back as it says in small lettering in the bottom right corner, "The Passion of Muhammad Ali." This issue was published when Ali was in the midst of fighting his conviction for draft evasion. An outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, in 1967, he refused to enlist when he was drafted. He was subsequently stripped of his heavyweight championship title, barred from professional wrestling, and attacked by much of the media and general public as a "draft dodger." The image from the cover is included below:
Ali's conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971's Clay v. United States (Ali was born Cassius Clay), and he went on to win some of his most iconic matches, the "Rumble in the Jungle" and the "Thrilla in Manila." Ali never feared controversy or rejection for sticking to his beliefs.To many, he will be remembered more for that than for what he did in the ring.