Brotherly bond: Ali and Jim Brown shared passion, purpose

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CLEVELAND (AP) When Muhammad Ali fought against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Jim Brown was in his corner.

The boxer and the football legend, two transcendent American sports icons, were fiercely loyal friends. Not only were they connected by their athletic greatness, Ali and Brown shared a social conscience and passion to see justice for all.

Undisputed champions for the world.

“He represented what a man should be in an America that’s free because he made people accept him as a man, as an equal and he was not afraid to represent himself in that way,” the 80-year-old Brown told the Associated Press on Saturday night. “That’s what I loved about him. He could have definitely played it a different way.”

They admired each other and Brown said his deep affinity for Ali was based on his fearlessness and willingness to take chances. When others turned and ran or looked the other way, Ali stood firm, defiant.

“I had the admiration for him because he took it upon himself to risk everything for his manhood and to be a good American,” Brown said. “As I’ve thought about it, it’s about all of us being a part of this country and enjoying the equal rights as citizens in this country and because he was such a great athlete he was able to use the spotlight and use it probably like nobody else in history.”

A superstar running back for the Cleveland Browns, Brown retired at the peak of his career, walking away from his fame on the field to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. That, too, was dangerous but nothing compared to the stand Ali took against the war.

Citing his religious beliefs as a Muslim, Ali refused to enlist in the U.S. Army, and his viewpoint angered and outraged white Americans. He was eventually stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967.

Never one to back down himself, Brown wanted to help and invited several other prominent athletes, including Celtics star Bill Russell and UCLA’s Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to a summit in Cleveland. But before Brown and the others showed their public support for Ali, they questioned him for five hours to gauge his motives.

In the end, they were satisfied Ali’s intentions were genuine.

“He was asked every question that you could ask a person and he came through as totally sincere,” Brown said, “and it was his sincerity that made us become a group of one and we decided we would back him all the way and do anything we could do to bring attention to his situation and to let everybody know he was actually genuine about his position on the war based upon his religion.”

Whether playfully sparring with him at his home in California or visiting Ali when he trained in England, Brown always enjoyed being in his company.

Ali had a gift, and he wanted to share it with everyone.

“This man loved people, and everywhere I was ever with him, he always respected people and he loved good human beings,” Brown said. “He was definitely not prejudiced. The thing that he stood for was based on him being equal and having the freedom that everyone else had, but he always loved people.”

‘It’s about time’: Trump pardons late boxer Jack Johnson

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a rare posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, clearing Jack Johnson’s name more than 100 years after what many see as his racially-charged conviction.

“It’s my honor to do it. It’s about time,” Trump said during an Oval Office ceremony, where he was joined by boxer Lennox Lewis and actor Sylvester Stallone, who has drawn awareness to Johnson’s cause.

Trump said Johnson had served 10 months in prison for what many view as a racially-motivated injustice and described his decision as an effort “to correct a wrong in our history.”

“He represented something that was both very beautiful and very terrible at the same time,” Trump said.

Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-white jury for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes, for traveling with his white girlfriend.

Trump had said previously that Stallone had brought Johnson’s story to his attention in a phone call.

“His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial,” Trump tweeted in April. “Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

Johnson is a legendary figure in boxing and crossed over into popular culture decades ago with biographies, dramas and documentaries following the civil rights era.

He died in 1946. His great-great niece has pressed Trump for a posthumous pardon, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been pushing Johnson’s case for years.

The son of former slaves, Johnson defeated Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in 1908 at a time when blacks and whites rarely entered the same ring. He then mowed down a series of “great white hopes,” culminating in 1910 with the undefeated former champion, James J. Jeffries.

McCain previously told The Associated Press that Johnson “was a boxing legend and pioneer whose career and reputation were ruined by a racially charged conviction more than a century ago.”

“Johnson’s imprisonment forced him into the shadows of bigotry and prejudice, and continues to stand as a stain on our national honor,” McCain has said.

Posthumous pardons are rare, but not unprecedented. President Bill Clinton pardoned Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American officer to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War, and Bush pardoned Charles Winters, an American volunteer in the Arab-Israeli War convicted of violating the U.S. Neutrality Acts in 1949.

Linda E. Haywood, the great-great niece, wanted Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, to pardon Johnson, but Justice Department policy says “processing posthumous pardon petitions is grounded in the belief that the time of the officials involved in the clemency process is better spent on the pardon and commutation requests of living persons.”

The Justice Department makes decisions on potential pardons through an application process and typically makes recommendations to the president. The general DOJ policy is to not accept applications for posthumous pardons for federal convictions, according to the department’s website. But Trump has shown a willingness to work around the DOJ process in the past.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Lomachenko stops Linares in 10th, wins lightweight title

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NEW YORK (AP) Vasiliy Lomachenko stopped Jorge Linares in the 10th round of their lightweight championship fight Saturday night, winning a title in his third weight class in just his 12th pro bout.

Lomachenko landed a hard left to the body during a flurry of precision punches that sent Linares went to a knee. Linares finally got up just as the count was reaching 10 but referee Ricky Gonzalez called an end to the fight at 2:08 of the round.

Linares knocked down Lomachenko in the sixth and the fight was all even after nine rounds before Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) put an overpowering end to his first fight at 135 pounds, adding that title to his belts at 126 and 130 pounds.

Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) hadn’t lost since 2012 and used his size advantage to do some damage, but in the end Lomachenko did more in an exciting Madison Square Garden match.

The fighter widely known as Vasyl said this week he prefers to use Vasiliy, his legal name. And now he can be called lightweight champion after picking up the WBA’s version of the belt in front of a crowd of 10,429 that chanted “Loma! Loma!” and waved blue and gold flags for much of the night.

It was Lomachenko’s eighth straight victory by stoppage, but this one was much tougher than a recent stretch of clinics in which his last four fights ended when his opponents’ corners wouldn’t let them take more punishment from the Ukrainian.

Lomachenko had joked he should be called “no mas Chenko” for his habit of making opponents quit, but Linares made him earn this victory.

The Venezuelan was on a 13-fight winning streak and was giving the two-time Olympic gold medalist the test he wanted, one that he said would bring out the best in what many already consider the most skilled fighter in the world.

Each fighter was ahead 86-84 on a judge’s card, while Julie Lederman had it 85-all after nine rounds.

Lomachenko said Thursday he needed to finally be put in danger to show his complete array of skills, and then on display in the 10th round with a series of shots that Linares couldn’t defend, especially the left to his midsection that took the biggest toll.

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