Muhammad Ali & Health Literacy


Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.) died June 3rd 2016 at the age of 74 from pulmonary related complications, having suffered for the past 30 years of Parkinson’s disease [νόσος πάρκινσον]. Though sources indicate his condition was largely genetic, it raises a larger issue tying head injury from sports like boxing (Ali was a heavyweight boxing champion retiring in the early 80’s) or football/rugby, to more complicated neurological structures.

A man who can teach many young people today about the commitment to sport, one’s beliefs, as well as civic and democratic engagement. Some people would say that he was controversial in many respects, refusing the draft to the Vietnam war, speaking up against the establishment, and certainly reflected the ‘culture’ of his generation. He was known to inspire other greats like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela in their own political roadmaps. He touched all generations, across races, ethnicity, culture, religions, throughout the world. Interestingly nature responded with her own ‘goodbye’ as thousands of bees swarmed near a mural dedicated to him next to the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, a  museum near his childhood home… a reminder of his perseverance and personal dignity “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”!

His legacy can teach us the importance of being active in our communities as we engage in issues that affect our own health, well-being, and our communities at large.  A perfect tie-in on issues of health literacy there have been several articles and books that include information related to the subject of civic literacy such as Advancing Health Literacy: A Framework for Understanding and Action (Zarcadoolas & Pleasant, 2006) and Health Literacy and School-based Education (Marks, 2013)


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