In Etan Thomas's latest SLAM column, he tells stories about people who approach him in public, share their unsolicited opinions with him, and then tell him that unsolicited opinions should be kept to one's self. The big Wizard has plenty of interesting stuff to say on the topic, but mostly makes clear that he's not going to be quiet any time soon:
I was watching this special about Muhammad Ali and they showed him shaking hands with George Bush, of all people, and I thought to myself, How ironic. When talking about Muhammad Ali, it is important to remember that all of these people in mainstream America, who now look at him with reverence and dignity, did not feel that way when he was in his prime. It is important to remember that he was one of the most vilified and reviled men of his time. When he made the decision not to enter his name in the draft, not to step forward and fight in a war that he did not agree in, he was looked upon with hate. All of the people who once cheered him and marveled at his ability and overall skills in the ring suddenly looked upon him with eyes of contempt. If was almost as if they were thinking, How dare he not jump at the opportunity to fight for his country?
The reality was that Ali was the epitome of standing up for what you believed in. For having the moral courage to ignore public opinion and stand on his convictions. You have to remember that this was a different time. A time where black people all over the country were being brutally lynched, burned alive, doused with water hoses and attacked with dogs, and this was by the police. This was a time of dire consequences for such actions, and it took a proud black man as Muhammad Ali, who waited until he won the belt, until he was the heavyweight champion of the world, to say to the entire country, Gotcha! This is who I am. And I'm not going to give you any choice but to accept me as a man. You can't put me in a box regardless of whether you want to or not.
Muhammad Ali is a symbol for self-pride and dignity, knowledge of self and knowing your destiny on this earth. This is who I looked at-along with Bill Russell, John Carlos and Tommy Smith, Jim Brown, Kareem and others-as role models. These are the athletes who I aspire to emulate as far as having the courage to stand up for what I believe in.
Which brings me back to these gentlemen who wanted me to basically shut up and play. I am never going to be the silent athlete. I am not interested in playing the role of shying away from anything that would "rock the boat," so to speak. That's just not me. (Make no mistake, I am not putting myself on the level with Muhammad Ali, I just have such respect for him and all the other athletes who weren't afraid to stand up for what they believed in.)