The Slatest

Trump Says He Wants to Pardon Muhammad Ali, a Black Muslim Athlete Who Was Prosecuted for Protesting the Military

A kneeling Ali rests his head on a prayer mat in a boxing ring while surrounded by press.
Muhammad Ali prays while promoting an upcoming fight against Ken Norton on Aug. 4, 1976 in New York City.
The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Donald Trump has reportedly become quite enamored of his authority to issue pardons and commutations; he’s already given out a number of them during his term to figures ranging from right-wing heroes who defied federal authority to black victims of draconian drug sentencing. On Friday, he said he was considering a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali. From CNN:

“I’m thinking about Muhammad Ali. I’m thinking about that very seriously and some others,” Trump said, while speaking to reporters at the White House before departing for the Group of Seven summit. “And some folks that have sentences that aren’t fair.”

Ali, a black athlete who announced he had converted to Islam in 1964, was convicted of a felony in 1967 for refusing induction into the military during the Vietnam War, which would make him a curious cause for a president who has made hostility to Muslims and athletes whose kneeling protests allegedly insult the military two of his top issues.

Trump, to his credit (!), apparently seems to realize this. More from CNN:

“You have a lot of people in the NFL in particular, but in sports leagues, they’re not proud enough to stand for our National Anthem. I don’t like that. … What I’m going to do is, I’m going to say to them instead of talk … I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me [for potential pardon]—because that’s what they’re protesting—people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system.”

Recall, however, that Trump has in the past publicly endorsed surprisingly liberal positions on issues such as gun control legislation and the legal status of DACA recipients before retreating to doctrinaire right-wing positions. So … we’ll see.

In any case, Muhammad Ali doesn’t actually need a pardon because his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971.