Sport, Environment, and Culture: Cassius Clay Tosses his Medal into the Ohio River

The countdown to the Summer Olympics in London is on! Athletes across the U.S. and the world are preparing for the biggest competition of their lives. But it was Cassius Clay, before he became Muhammad Ali, who truly made a statement with his gold medal win in boxing. Enjoy this little gem of a story about the legendary Kentuckian and his Olympic impact on the Civil Rights movement.

reblogged from, 13 Medal-Worthy Olympic Stories: Cassius Clay Tosses his Medal into the Ohio River, August 14, 2008

Before Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, he was a cocky 18-year-old boxer at the 1960 Games in Rome. His masterful performance in the ring won him the gold, but his friendliness and chatty demeanor won him the hearts of journalists. Hoping to capitalize on Clay’s loose tongue, the Soviet press tried to bait him into talking trash about America. One Soviet reporter asked him how he felt about being barred from certain restaurants back home, and Clay quickly responded, “Russian, we got qualified men working on that problem. We got the biggest and the prettiest cars. We get all the food we can eat. America is the greatest country in the world.”

After Clay returned home to Kentucky, he proudly wore his gold medal around his neck. But his American pride didn’t last long. In Louisville, a whites-only restaurant refused to serve him, and a white gang made the mistake of trying to attack him. After the incidents, the medal lost its luster for Clay. According to popular legend, he reacted by abruptly chucking it into the Ohio River. Four decades and one Civil Rights movement later, the Olympic committee gave Ali a replacement medal during the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

For great commentary on the Olympic games, check out The Olympics and Philosophy edited by Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin, available July 2012 everywhere books are sold.

It is said the champions of the ancient Olympic Games received a crown of olive leaves, symbolizing a divine blessing from Nike, the winged goddess of victory. While the mythology of the ancient games has come to exemplify the highest political, religious, community, and individual ideals of the time, the modern Olympic Games, by comparison, are widely known as an international, bi-annual sporting event where champions have the potential to earn not only glory for their country, but lucrative endorsement deals and the perks of worldwide fame. The Olympics and Philosophy examines the Olympic Movement from a variety of theoretical perspectives to uncover the connection between athleticism and philosophy for a deeper appreciation of the Olympic Pillars of Sport, Environment, and Culture.

While today’s Olympic champions are neither blessed by the gods nor rewarded with wreaths of olive, the original spirit and ancient ideals of the Olympic Movement endure in its modern embodiment. Editors Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin have assembled a team of international scholars to explore topics such as the concept of excellence, ethics, doping, gender, and race. Interweaving ancient and modern Olympic traditions, The Olympics and Philosophy considers the philosophical implications of the Games’ intersection with historical events and modern controversy in a unique analysis of tradition and the future of the Olympiad.

Heather L. Reid is professor and chair of the department of philosophy at Morningside College. She serves on the editorial board of review for the Journal of Philosophy of Sport, and the executive board of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport and is the author of Philosophical Athlete: Athletics and Philosophy in the Ancient World and co-author of Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World.

Michael W. Austin is associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University and serves on the executive board of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport. He is the editor of several publications, including Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind and Football and Philosophy: Going Deep.

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About University Press of Kentucky

The University Press of Kentucky has a dual mission—the publication of books of high scholarly merit in a variety of fields for a largely academic audience and the publication of books about the history and culture of Kentucky, the Ohio Valley region, the Upper South, and Appalachia. The Press is the statewide mandated nonprofit scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, operated as an agency of the University of Kentucky and serving all state institutions of higher learning, plus five private colleges and Kentucky's two major historical societies.

3 thoughts on “Sport, Environment, and Culture: Cassius Clay Tosses his Medal into the Ohio River

  1. Pingback: What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses | Yale Press Log

  2. Pingback: What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses, June 8, 2012 - Yale Press Log

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