For most Americans, the world of professional sports has been a place to escape the tumultuous work week, their personal problems, and most importantly, politics. However, as The Nation’s sport journalist and author Dave Zirin explained to me in a recent conversation, there are many athletes past and present who have used “the game” to raise the political consciousness of Americans. Zirin explained to me the significance of athletes such as Muhammad Ali, and why there are more political athletes today than in years past.
Kevin Patrick Kelly: What is the significance of the legacy of Muhammad Ali?
Dave Zirin: His legacy, I really think that in the 1960s, he made people feel brave at a time when it was really needed. I think in many respects his legacy is understated because the 60s, and indeed the entire post-war era were really defined by two movements: the antiwar struggle regarding Vietnam and the Black Freedom Struggle. These movements seemed destined to exist on parallel tracks, not necessarily crossing. They were segregated by race, segregated by class, and then you had the Heavy Weight Champion of the World with one foot in each of those camps. Really bringing them together culturally and providing a common icon for both of those movements.