Boxing legend and activist Muhammad Ali will become the first professional athlete in the history of the National Constitution Center's Liberty Medal to receive Philadelphia's most prestigious award, officials said Thursday in announcing the 2012 recipient.
Ali will receive the medal in a public ceremony Sept. 13 at the center on Independence Mall. He will be the 27th person to receive the honor since its inception in 1989.
Ali, 70, won an Olympic gold medal in 1960. Seven years later, he refused induction into the military and was infamously arrested, stripped of his boxing license and title, and found guilty of draft evasion. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, eventually overturned the decision and Ali regained his title in 1974.
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In addition to his legacy as a boxer, Ali is well known for his humanitarian efforts. He traveled overseas several times on goodwill missions and has provided over 232 million meals to impoverished countries. He has also been an advocate for those suffering from Parkinson's disease, which Ali has battled since 1982.
Ali will receive the honor in the city most associated with his boxing rival, Joe Frazier. Ali was in attendance at Frazier's funeral earlier this year. The Liberty Medal will not be his first distinction in Philadelphia. In 2003, he participated in a special Flag Day ceremony just before the NCC's official opening.
"Muhammad Ali embodies everything the Liberty Medal was established to honor," NCC President and CEO David Eisner said at a press conference. "Muhammad Ali is a champion of freedom and civic action, and as we approach our 10th anniversary since he first raised our flag, the National Constitution Center is proud to welcome him back and to give him the 2012 Liberty Medal award."
This year's ceremony will be part of a nationwide celebration of the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
Last year's Liberty Medal winner was former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
2011 Dr. Robert M. Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense
2010 Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister
2009 Steven Spielberg
2008 Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader
2007 Bono and DATA
2006 George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton, former U.S. Presidents
2005 Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine
2004 Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan
2003 Sandra Day O'Connor, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
2002 Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State
2001 Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General
2000 Dr. James Watson and Dr. Francis Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA