Peter Villegas, the chairman of the California State Athletic Commission, joined the board of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, in February. An avowed Ali fan, he’d even named his daughter, Alisandra, or Ali, for short, after the champ.
Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s widow, was traveling to California in April and arranged to meet Villegas. She traveled to his Los Angeles home and as he was showing her around, came to his home office where he has some memorabilia on display.
Among the items on Villegas’ wall were framed U.S. postage stamps of Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente and Cesar Chavez, a labor and civil rights leader.
Villegas asked Lonnie Ali if her husband had been on a postage stamp. When she said he was no, Villegas suggested it would be a good idea to begin a campaign to bring it about. And such was born the social media hashtag, #GetTheChampAStamp, designed to promote a public awareness campaign to champion the effort to memorialize Ali on a postage stamp.
The process to make it happen could be as long as three years. A citizens’ advisory panel will look at a person’s credentials and make a recommendation to the Postmaster General. The postal service chooses people who made “extraordinary and enduring individual contributions to American society, history, and culture, or environment” and who have achieved “widespread national appeal or significance.”
Ali fits all of that criteria. The social media campaign will help push public awareness of the effort and to solicit images of Ali that may be appropriate for the stamp.
“If Muhammad were alive to see this, he’d be absolutely thrilled,” Lonnie Ali told Yahoo Sports. “I think this would be significant in many ways. It would be inspirational to so many to see Muhammad, who came from meager and humble beginnings to become a national and even an international icon, to be given this recognition of being put on a U.S. postage stamp.
“That culminates a career and a life of meaning and purpose that not everybody can achieve. But it shows what anyone can achieve if they put their mind to it if they have the passion and the heart and determination, as Muhammad did.”
When Ali was a precocious young boxer who needed public attention almost as much as he needed oxygen, he uttered a quote that is one of the inspirations behind the campaign.
He was always playfully braggadocios and spoke of how he would never lose. At one point, he brought up a postage stamp.
“I should be on a postage stamp, because that’s the only way I’ll ever get licked,” he said. “I’m beautiful. I’m fast. I’m so mean I make medicine sick. I can’t possibly be beat.”
Villegas has enlisted the support of U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-California) as well as Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Villegas used to organize the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and at one such conference shared a cab with a man he did not know. When the man introduced himself as Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, Villegas beamed and said two words:
“That named cemented a long-time friendship between us,” Villegas said.
It was Fischer who nominated Villegas to be on the Ali Center board. And it was Villegas’ meeting with Lonnie Ali that built the momentum for the campaign.
Villegas pointed out that Ali inspired tens of millions around the world, and not just athletes, but business and political leaders, as well.
“There have been countless business owners, CEOs, doctors — so many people in so many industries and so many occupations — who have looked to Ali as their inspiration,” Villegas said.
Ali’s grandson, Nico Ali Walsh, who is 5-0 as a boxer, also has gotten behind the effort.
He said it will be a way to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive.
“There is no bigger honor for a singular person than to have their face on a postage stamp,” Ali Walsh told Yahoo Sports. “It’s something that presidents get. It’s a huge deal. When I heard of it, I loved it, but honestly, I was shocked that he didn’t already have one.
“I’m fully on board with it. It’s a process and it takes time, but if this becomes a reality, it will bring a new set of eyes to his legacy and help keep it alive. My grandfather was about helping people and if his face on a stamp will inspire people to reach their goals the way he did, that’s a great thing.”