And the winner of this year’s Liberty Medal is … Muhammad Ali. The Olympic gold medalist and boxing legend is being honored as “a champion of freedom.” The National Constitution Center announced the selection Thursday, launching the catchy phrase “the Thrilla in Phila.” Even before he retired from boxing, Muhammad Ali drew attention for what he did outside the ring. In 1967, he was arrested and stripped of his boxing license and title, after refusing induction into the U.S. armed forces. The Supreme Court later ruled that, based on Ali’s religious beliefs, he should have been granted conscientious objector status. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter applauded Ali’s commitment to fighting for peace, justice, and civil rights. “The only other thing I can say about Muhammad Ali is ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble young man, rumble.’ He was a true champion in the ring and out of the ring,” Nutter said. “And whether you agreed with him or not, whether you submitted to his views, he did, in fact, change America.” Ali’s work as a humanitarian and philanthropist has included flying to Lebanon to secure the release of hostages, making good will missions to Afghanistan and North Korea, and recently attempting to free two American hikers held captive in Iran. Ali is more than just a boxer, said David Eisner, Constitution Center president. He’s used his fame to uplift and inspire people around the world. “He’s devoted his life to humanitarian causes, his work as an international ambassador for peace began in 1985 when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages,” Eisner said. “And since then he’s made good will gestures and missions to Afghanistan and North Korea, he delivered supplies to Cuba, he traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 U.S. hostages during the first Gulf War.”
Ali will receive the medal in a public ceremony in September.
Past Liberty Medal winners include former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former South African president Nelson Mandela, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the musician Bono.