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LISTEN: MSNBC's Craig Melvin On Muhammad Ali, Social Protest

Craig Melvin
Courtesy Craig Melvin

The Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards take place on Saturday. And they’re sure to take a different tone than in past years, in part because of Ali’s death earlier this year.

But the awards – which celebrate individuals who further the causes of peace and social justice that Ali embraced during his life – are also taking place during a time of social unrest in the U.S. Tensions persist between communities of color and police, and professional athletes are speaking out in protest – echoing Ali.

I spoke with Craig Melvin, MSNBC host and emcee of the Ali Humanitarian Awards, about Ali’s legacy in action today. Listen in the audio player above.

On Ali's toughness outside the ring: 

"I think he is one of those rare individuals in terms of national treasures whose career or life after they left the spotlight was just as impressive. And by that I mean, here was a guy -- we all know Muhammad Ali the fighter. But after he left the ring, what he managed to do in terms of becoming a global ambassador, a humanitarian, you could argue that it surpassed his career in the ring even in a lot of ways.

"On top of that, here was a guy -- and we all remember that iconic image in '96 of the hand shaking as he lit the cauldron. Here was a guy who could have retreated when the very thing that defined him, and by that I mean this public persona of toughness, was gone. And it was leaving him for all of us to see. And what does he decide to do? He stays in the spotlight."

On the role professional athletes can play in social justice conversations: 

"What seems to be motivating a lot of these athletes now is that the kids who watch them, the kids who buy their shoes and buy their jerseys, these are the issues that are motivating them. And a lot of these guys, especially basketball players, the neighborhoods that are in the news are the same neighborhoods where they used to shoot hoops. So the ability to relate, it's an easy one.

"But I also think we are on the cusp of another era, if you will, where athletes are also activists. And I don't think that it's coincidental that it's happening within a year of Muhammad Ali's death."

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.