On this day in 1967, Muhammad Ali risked his career and his freedom by resisting the draft for the Vietnam War.
The iconic boxer showed that sports stars could leverage their influence for good when he objected to the United States’ devastating war—one in which impoverished young men of color paid the biggest price—on religious and moral grounds:
My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me n*****, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what?
After a draft board rejected his application for “conscientious objector” status, Ali tried to register as a Muslim minister—all to no avail. He showed up to his scheduled induction on April 28, then refused to step forward when his name was called. Both the New York State Athletic Comission and World Boxing Association stripped Ali of his boxing license and championship title, respectively, that day.
A grand jury later convicted Ali of felony charges related to his resistance. It took four years for the U.S. Supreme Court to unanimously reject the conviction.
Ali’s actions left a mark on the nation, inspiring figures as disparate as basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Martin Luther King Jr. and compelling widespread resistance to the already controversial Vietnam War.