Athletes at Constitution Center discuss roles as social activists

Claressa Shields (left) and Susan Francia, show off their Olympic Gold medals after attending a panel discussion to explore Sport, competition and Social Justice at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, prior to the Liberty Medal Ceremony honoring Muhammad Ali. ( SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer )
Claressa Shields (left) and Susan Francia, show off their Olympic Gold medals after attending a panel discussion to explore Sport, competition and Social Justice at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, prior to the Liberty Medal Ceremony honoring Muhammad Ali. ( SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer )
Posted: September 14, 2012

A group of distinguished athletes and the wife of Muhammad Ali tackled questions about athletes being role models and social activists during a forum this afternoon at the National Constitution Center.

The panel - made up of Lonnie Ali, the boxing great's wife; his daughter Laila Ali, herself a former professional boxer; retired basketball star Dikembe Mutombo; and recent Olympic champions, boxer Claressa Shields, and rower Susan Francia - addressed a wide range of questions raised by moderator, acclaimed bioethicist Arthur Caplan.

Muhammad Ali is set to receive the prestigious Liberty Medal tonight at the Constitution Center.

Asked about high profile athletes addressing social issues, Lonnie Ali noted the example of her husband, who was outspoken on matters of civil rights, religious freedom and social justice, early in his boxing career.

"Muhammad started speaking out at a very early age, at 22." Lonnie Ali said. "He had a strong belief in himself and was confident in his own skin."

She said that he set an example followed by many athletes. "He was not one to preach, so much as one to set an example by his actions," Lonnie Ali said.

Mutombo, who worked to build a hospital in his native Democratic Republic of Congo, said Ali's work inspired him.

"Muhammad Ali showed us what kind of influence we can have on society," Mutombo said.

Asked whether athletes should be role models, Laila Ali said that even if athletes do not give back to their communities, in terms of services or money, they should maintain a positive image.

She said athletes should, at least, "be sure not to do anything negative."

Shields, who became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal for boxing this summer in London, said it is important to present a positive image for younger people to emulate.

"I'm a positive person," Shields said. "There are a lot of people who look up to me. ... As far as giving back to my home community, it's just something I want to do."

Susan Francia, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for rowing, who lives in Abington, said, "As athletes, we do have responsibility, especially being in the public eye."

She said being an inspirational figure for children is very important, especially if one is representing the country.

Asked about athletes speaking out about bias against homosexuals, Lonnie Ali noted that her husband has long spoken out against prejudice.

"I'm always impressed when any athlete takes a stand," she said.


Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|