The Louisville Regional Airport Authority Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to rename the city’s airport after “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali. The new name is Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.
Ali was born with the heart of a champion in Louisville, K.Y., on Jan. 17, 1942. He began training as an amateur boxer when he was just 12 years old. The airport announcement came a day before he would have turned 77.
Though The Champ was fearless in the ring, he was outspoken about disliking “bad airplane flights.”
“Never worry about fights … only bad airplane flights. No fights,” Ali once told boxing historian Jim Jacobs, in an interview.
But, in 1960, at age 18, Ali had to travel to San Francisco to qualify for the U.S. Olympics boxing team.
“You’re going to have to fly, son, if you want to be a fighter, fly to places all over the world,” his trainer, Dick Sadler, told him.
Though he took the flight to San Francisco, an experience with turbulence made him decide to take the train home. But like any great champion, in order to win, you have to face your fears. Ali flew to Rome for the Olympics, with convincing from his longtime boxing coach Joe Martin. He bought a parachute from an Army surplus store to wear on the plane, just in case. Ali went on to win the gold medal. International travel eventually became a part of his career.
Muhammad Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali, said, of the recent announcement, that she’s proud of airport authority and the City of Louisville as changing the name will “reflect Muhammad’s impact on the city and his love for his hometown.”
“I am happy that visitors from far and wide who travel to Louisville will have another touch point to Muhammad and be reminded of his open and inclusive nature, which is reflective of our city,” Ali said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Muhammad was a global citizen, but he never forgot the city that gave him his start. It is a fitting testament to his legacy.”
The Airport Authority Board also authorized an agreement with Muhammad Ali Enterprises, LLC, for use of Ali’s name. However, the airport’s three-letter International Air Transport Association Location Identifier SDF will not change.
“It’s important that we, as a city, further The Champ’s legacy, and the airport renaming is a wonderful next step,” Mayor Greg Fischer, said, in a statement.
The vote came after a recommendation from a board working-group that had studied renaming for more than a year.
“Certainly, Muhammad faced discrimination and the impact of inequality, and he wasn’t shy about sharing his views on those challenges,” Fischer said.
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Ali was a professional boxer but also an activist and philanthropist.
“Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period,” former President Barack Obama said, in a statement, at the time of Ali’s death.
“‘I am America,'” [Muhammad Ali] once declared. ‘I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.’
“That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us.
“He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail.”
Ali died June 3, 2016 at a Phoenix, Arizona-area hospital. He was 74 years old. The boxing champion spent 32 years fighting Parkinson’s disease.