Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest sportsman to grace the international stage, received the Liberty Medal on Thursday at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center.
The honor is bestowed on those who fight for humanitarian causes, civil rights and religious freedom. A $100,000 cash prize is awarded to the recipient.
Ali, now 70 and stricken with Parkinson's disease, did not speak during the ceremony. His wife, Lonnie, and daughter, Laila, spoke on his behalf.
"You know, my father loves people and people love my father, and I learned that at a very young age, as people would always come up to him wherever we went," his daughter said. "My father has always lived his life to make this world better for others."
Among those in attendance were former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"He changed my life," said Mutombo, who was 8 when Ali upset young heavyweight George Foreman in Congo, then known as Zaire. "I can never forget how inspired I was to see a black athlete receive such respect and admiration. He changed how the people of Zaire saw themselves, and in turn how the world saw them."
Ali won a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics as Cassius Clay, his given name at birth. He changed his name after converting to Islam in 1964 and eventually refused to fight in the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs. He was arrested and stripped of the heavyweight title in 1967, but the U.S. Supreme Court cleared him of the draft-evasion conviction in 1971. He served no jail time but was unable to box for more than three years.
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