Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson never met Muhammad Ali, but he knows his daughter and talked a few times with one of his famous opponents. So Jackson felt he had an understanding of the former boxing champ who was buried Friday.
Jackson met Ali’s daughter, Laila, through a friend of his, former NFL receiver Curtis Conway. And Jackson’s mom was good friends with former boxing champ George Foreman, who fought Muhammad Ali. When Jackson was younger, he spoke a few times with Foreman about Ali. Foreman’s main message was about Ali’s consistency.
“He told me about how on point Ali was and how he used his mind as a weapon to also defeat an opponent,” Jackson told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “I was able to witness that at an early age. I actually watched and studied a lot of Ali’s fights when I got a little older and could understand the impact that he had on boxing and the world. Those were some classic fights. I’m just a huge fan. I wish I would’ve been able to meet Ali in person. Still, Ali inspired me and my generation. He was just an incredible man, period.”
Jackson told Anderson that he’s not sure current athletes can be as outspoken on political issues, or other issues impacting the community.
“Sometimes I think if today’s athletes speak out, people will look at us like we should just be silent and go to work,” Jackson said. “I think there is a fear that the media can turn on you and talk bad on you. But I think Ali’s stance on black pride, his involvement in the movement and his work on the world was very enlightening. I hope athletes today will have even more courage to speak up. The good news is that we have the outlet of social media now as a powerful place to get out what we want to say and to deliver our messages, too. That makes it easier. As for your opinion on serious topics, I think you just have to be more careful.”
But Jackson called Ali a great example of one person making a difference.
“We just have to do a better job of letting the younger generation know it’s possible to achieve greater things than they could ever imagine,” Jackson said. “For the people that come from nothing, we have to let them know they can make it too and just help all the youth to carry on the success of our names.”
Jackson also said that having lost his own father, he sympathizes with what Laila Ali is going through now.
“I just want to send the family my condolences and express that we lost a great icon,” he said, “and a powerful black leader in our community and someone who stood up for us.”