Muhammad Ali and the real draft dodgers — our fathers

I was reading baseball posts the other day on azcentral.com, the digital version of the Arizona Republic newspaper.  The Diamondbacks lost a home series to the White Sox, and I was enjoying the banter of fans, their despair, their unrealistic expectations.  Then I ran across this post by someone using the handle, Rasputing:

“Once again the Arizona elitists require all of us to pay allegiance to our country’s greatest draft dodger, Muhammad Ali.  What do the rich and powerful care if we are a country at war.  Their sons and daughters don’t fight our wars anyway.”

Apparently Ali, the former heavyweight boxing champion, had attended Sunday’s game, and the stadium camera briefly homed in on him.  I wasn’t there, but I imagine he received a hearty applause.  He always does wherever he goes. 

The post generated a half-dozen or more responses, some pro and an overwhelming number against.   Strangely, it turned out to be the baseball game’s most popular topic on the message board.

“Your life must suck,” one poster responded.

Isn’t that something?  I thought.  A single event that happened in 1967, more than 44 years ago and mostly forgotten, triggering such anger.  And yet some Americans can not turn it loose.  They remember Ali as dodging the draft and refusing to fight in the Vietnam conflict.

For starters, Ali was not a draft dodger.  He was a conscientious objector for religious reasons.  Three years before, in 1964, shortly after winning the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, the then-Cassius Clay announced he was now a Black Muslim and was changing his name to Muhammad Ali.  When called up for the draft in ’67, Ali claimed he was a minister for the Nation of Islam and his religion did not allow him to war in Vietnam. 

He did not help his cause by saying he had nothing against the U.S. enemy, the Vietcong, and bringing racism into the arena.  “No Vietcong ever called me nigger,”  Ali was quoted as saying.  But he was a black man and had come of age in the South.  Not long after winning a 1960 Olympics title for the U.S. boxing team, he was refused service at an all-white restaurant in his home town of Lousiville, KY.  He soon tossed his gold medal into the Ohio River, so the story goes.

After his refusal to be inducted into the Army, Ali was arrested, convicted, sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000.  He appealed the decision and never served time.  In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court over-turned the conviction. 

So here we have a man, Ali, who openly stood up to the system, was stripped of his boxing title and was not allowed to fight for almost four years, a situation that cost him millions of dollars.   He paid the price no matter how much anyone disbelieves the sincerity of his religious claims. 

But who were the real draft dodgers, evaders and resisters?  They were our fathers.  They were our uncles and brothers.  Even our sons.   Mostly all white men who feared the bullet, who didn’t want family and career disrupted. 

How so? 

Some were “Kennedy Husbands,” those who rushed to the altar for last-minute marriage when news that JFK’s policy of low draft status for married men was about to be rescinded.

They were the many who quickly joined the National Guard to avoid deployment in Vietnam.   One meeting a month, two weeks at summer camp, a little more income.  Out of harm’s way.  Let others do the fighting.

There were those like Bill Clinton, the former president, who was in school in England and joined the R.O.T.C.  There were others who suddenly grew interests in academia and attending college — so they could receive a draft deferment.  Some exaggerated physical and psychological disabilities and became undraftable.  There was pressure brought on draft boards by parents and their political allies.   All, not to mention 8,000 deserters during the Vietnam years.   But Muhammad Ali is the one most often fingered for guilt.

Ali, if you look at it under a certain light, was a hero of his time even beyond boxing.   He did not avoid the draft by hiding behind technicalities and lies.  He didn’t leave the country.  His motives, at least on the surface, were far more noble than most others who now, unlike Ali, can sit back in comfort and never have the word “draft dodger” thrown at them.  And yet in reality they were draft dodgers.  Legal draft dodgers. 

Do you know what your daddy’s draft status was in the Vietname era?   Really know?  There is something at work here with those who still rage about Ali and Vietnam.   They screamth too much.

It all smacks of hypocrisy and racism.

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14 thoughts on “Muhammad Ali and the real draft dodgers — our fathers

  1. Orry November 12, 2011 / 9:25 AM

    Well said my friend. Cassius “Muhammed Ali” Clay stood up to a corrupt and unjust system brought on by individuals, themselves who knew nothing of war. In a time when the black man was held back and held down, [Ali] stood up for what he felt was right. History shows that many of the draft dodgers were in fact white men, some of whom (Dick Cheney, Ted Nugent, Bill Clinton), did this out of pure cowardice. It’s a sad country we live in these days, and so different from the way the constitution intended it to be, but men like Muhammed Ali give inspiration to those of us who do believe in what’s right an just in the world. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!!!

  2. Kevin Noa January 1, 2012 / 6:33 PM

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Ali got screwed, plain and simple. If he wasn’t speaking out against racism, they never would have bothered him.

    Like so many other things in life, we’ll never know who told the Louisville draft board to change his status and draft him. Someone high up in the government I’m sure.

  3. Rich September 14, 2012 / 7:30 AM

    I know this is an old post, but when I see crap, I scrape it up and bury it.

    Ali was a draft dodger, that ‘muslim thing’ was a gag. It wasn’t that muslims couldn’t fight in ‘any’ war, just the ones they disagreed with. Had Ali been called on to kill white South Africans, it would have been an entirely different story, but he would have probably dodged that too, just the same. It was all about the $$$, and excuses. A sorry excuse for sure.

    Remember now, he was CONVICTED, and all the revision in the world can’t change history.

    • longrow September 14, 2012 / 11:09 AM

      So Rich, if Ali’s religion was a “gag” to evade the draft, how do you explain that he became a Muslim three years BEFORE he was inducted? And it “was all about $$$?” Ali lost millions when he was suspended from boxing in his prime, age 25 to 28. His “conviction” by the way was over-turned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  4. James Broadnax October 9, 2013 / 12:05 PM

    why should he fight for whitey [white people]? they never fought for him now did they?

  5. Brian October 26, 2013 / 2:06 PM

    Only because of his fame was an exception made for him. He was a complete hypocrite. He fought for money yet claimed it was against his religion to fight. Even while admitting it would be OK to fight a war if he was fighting to defend other blacks. They should have made an example of him rather then manufacturing a technicality to let him go free. They court only did it to appease the minority from inciting riots and more violence. Clay is and always will be a coward and draft dodger, while OUR Fathers bled and died for duty and honor.

  6. longrow October 27, 2013 / 5:01 PM

    It’s too easy, Brian, to refute every word you write, so easy that I wonder if you even know what you believe. As for Ali being a “hypocrite,” are you comparing boxing and war? As for “fighting to defend other blacks,” show me a quote from Ali that remotely suggests such nonsense. This coming from you, who likely never put on a military uinform except when you were playing toy soldier. You need to crawl out of your right-wing cocoon once in a while and taste reality.

  7. Jack Smith July 5, 2015 / 1:27 PM

    His treatment of Joe Frazier speaks volumes of who Ali was.

  8. longrow July 5, 2015 / 2:23 PM

    If you are an Ali hater, Jack, and I’m not saying you are, then you will go out of your way to find fault with him. But to the point, Ali wasn’t anymore a draft dodger than the “respectable” folks I described in the blog. Perhaps your use of Joe Frazier, another black man, hides the intent behind your commentary.

  9. Stacey November 23, 2015 / 1:17 PM

    Mohammed (Muhammad) Ali was a coward. He changed his religion to get out of being sent to Vietnam. Others were sent to Vietnam and they didn’t change their religion to Muslim to get out of being sent as they went to that war knowing they may return wounded or in a body bag. Those men fought with bravery against an enemy who showed no mercy as it was a fight to the death. Muhammad Ali fought in a ring where there was a referee to stop the fight if there was an injury. . . .Muhammad Ali compared to them is a coward and there is no glossing that over.

  10. bonnieux June 2, 2016 / 8:01 PM

    Cassius Clay was a cocky man and was full of himself. How well I remember that era. So he did not want to fight in a war and became a conscientious objector. So that does make him a coward just like Bernie Sanders who currently wants to become president.

  11. Ted June 4, 2016 / 7:51 PM

    Traitor to his country. Not much more to say. Even jackie robinson called him out as suchl

  12. Henry J June 6, 2016 / 4:39 PM

    Ali is and always will be a coward.

  13. donn schaeffer June 6, 2016 / 4:59 PM

    “……the real draft dodgers—- Our fathers.” Speak for yourself, idiot! And before your little mind wonders… YES, myself- two tours in Viet Nam, my father- fight pilot- WWII, my grandfather- fighter pilot-WWI.

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