In her 2016 special, Game Changers with Robin Roberts, the host and GMA host travels the country in order to find a handful of outstanding Americans who changed, well, the game in the past calendar year. A lot of the usual suspects are rounded up — LeBron James, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ashley Graham are incredibly inspirational. But in a less expected move, Roberts adds one last, posthumous honor for her finale: Muhammad Ali is named as a surprise Game Changer. At first, the move seems a little strange. While almost all of the other people honored are young, still in the prime of both their lives and careers, Ali retired from boxing decades ago, and passed away this year at 74 years old.
But in an interview with Ali's daughter, Laila, Roberts pieces together why she chose to include him. While Ali has been famous for 50 years, his death this summer showed the power of how much he's affected lives all over the world through his years of advocacy and his incredible talent. And Ali's unabashed pride in his athletic abilities, his religious conversion to Islam, and, above all, his blackness, makes the NMAAHC, or the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the perfect setting to honor Ali.
While walking through the museum, Laila Ali talks defines her father's work as a "messenger of peace," and how his religious beliefs prompted him to protest the Vietnam War, fund charitable efforts, and speak out about lots of issues throughout his life. Actually, looking at those old clips of Ali, I was reminded of another interview earlier in the special — Chance the Rapper, who spoke passionately about his home city of Chicago, the people who live there, and how his music can help, in some small way, to heal.
Overall, honoring Muhammad Ali in the Game Changers special was a perfect choice to end the retrospective on 2016, which both welcomed new innovators like Chance, but also represented the loss of many iconic figures like the famous boxer. Thankfully, it seems Ali's legacy will always live on.