Today in the Wall Street Journal: the anniversary of Ali's draft refusal
On this day in 1967, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army. Today in the Wall Street Journal, I examine this event and the way that it has been mythologized over the last 50 years. I argue that contrary to the version of the story so popular today, Ali did not refuse the draft out of political or moral principle but out of fear of disobeying the dictates of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. What I’ve argued is not original to me—the information I use is publicly available, and the conclusions I came to square with the insights of close and reliable observers of Ali: Mark Kram, Dave Kindred, George Plimpton, Sugar Ray Robinson, and others. All the best books about Ali grapple with the uncomfortable realities of this chapter of his life.
I did not write this out of hostility to Ali or his memory. I grew up watching him, and I have a lot of affection for him. He was a magnetic, multifaceted character with much about him to admire. He was also, like all of us, flawed.