In case you missed it, the Louisville International Airport announced yesterday they will be renaming their port of arrivals and departures to the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.
The exact date of the change has not been named, but it’s expected to take place in the next few months.
FAA approval for a name change can take up to 18 months. However, officials with the Louisville Airport Authority expect the change to happen much faster than that, if not as fast as its future namesake’s hands.
The Greatest was born in Louisville and after many years living in the tiny hovel of Berrien Springs, Michigan, the champ returned home and lived out his remaining days there. Before leaving the small Michigan town, Ali bequeathed a sizable sum of money to the Niles, Michigan little league, resulting in the park (in which I once played) being renamed as Champ’s Field.
While this is certainly not the first time a structure has been named after him, it is the most prestigious. Typically, major airports are named after presidents. See JFK or Ronald Reagan. It is exceedingly rare for a sports figure to receive this distinction.
Of course, as we all know, Muhammad Ali was much more than a sports figure. The gold medal winning Olympian and three-time heavyweight champion of the world transcended his sport as well as American life. It was not so long ago that he stood up to the American government over the Vietnam War, refusing his draft orders. It took a long time, but his act of courage – which wrongly cost him much of the peak of his career – has largely been accepted as what it was–an act of conscientious courage.
In his later years he was robbed of his physical dexterity and vibrant loquaciousness by the wicked affliction known as Parkinson’s. Despite his infirmity, he never hid. He was very public up until his final seasons on earth. His hands shook, and his voice was mostly silent. His presence remained mighty.
There was a time on this planet when he was the most famous man on earth. From a tall NYC high rise to the smallest village in Africa (Ali boomaye!)…
..he was known and drew crowds just by stepping foot on the street. Whether that path of road was made of concrete or dirt.
The airport has made a deal with the family for his likeness which will be seen by rushed travelers trying to make their connections. There will be no statue, as in accordance with his Muslim faith, such creations are seen as idolatry.
There will be an airport named after a man whose fame, athletic prowess, and righteousness spoke to his generation and beyond. He already belonged to history as one of the most significant and magnificent figures in the history of this still young country. Now he belongs to the airways too.
To paraphrase that French journalist exiting the plane to Zaire in When We Were Kings, we gonna fly in zee air ‘til we get to L’ville.”