TEMPE, Ariz. -- Corey Peters lost more than a childhood hero on Friday.
When Muhammad Ali died at age 74 in Scottsdale, Arizona, a piece of Peters’ hometown died as well. Peters, a 28-year-old nose tackle for the Arizona Cardinals, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky -- like Ali. He attended Central High School -- like Ali.
Growing up in Ali’s hometown -- and attending his former high school -- meant Peters was exposed to the boxing champ at an early age. And he was exposed to more than just his athletics.
“Back in Louisville, he’s a person that a lot of people draw on, a lot of educators draw on,” Peters said. “Not only for striving for excellence but for standing out for what you believe in, speaking up for what’s right, whether you like his beliefs or not. ... Regardless if you agree with his beliefs or not, you have to respect him for that.”
Louisville has become the epicenter of the sports world this week, as the entire world pays tribute to Ali. Even though Peters has been in Arizona going through minicamp, he has been able to keep up with the celebration of Ali’s life, nearly in real time. All of Peters’ social media platforms have been inundated with photos of the Ali-related events around Louisville, including from the Muhammad Ali Center and Ali’s childhood home.
Ali was already stricken with Parkinson’s by the time Peters was in high school. Peters never met The Greatest, but he was at an event attended by Ali. Whenever he saw Ali and whenever Ali was around Louisville, “it was always such a big deal," he said.
“He’s such a big figure,” Peters said. “Because of the NFL, I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people that are considered, I guess, famous. But he’s, like, a whole different level of idol and everything. Just a transformative figure.”
That is one reason Ali’s death really affected Peters.
“Definitely a lot of emotions,” he said. “He’s one of my heroes.”
Inside Peters’ high school stands a large poster of Ali, a reminder of who once walked those halls. At that time, Ali was Cassius Clay, but it was at that school that the mind the world has known for its political, religious and athletic views was groomed.
“They’re very proud of him,” Peters said. “So is everybody in Louisville.”