EDITOR’S NOTE: Tonight’s second annual Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards, presented by ESPN, will celebrate and honor leagues, teams, individuals and members of the sporting community that are using the power of sport to make a positive impact on society. Laila Ali returns as host for the event, which will be showcased during a 30-minute program this Friday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).
Ali spoke with Front Row about her admiration for the Humanitarian Awards and what it means to be part of the event.
What was the most memorable part of last year’s inaugural event that makes the Sports Humanitarian Award distinctive?
I just love seeing fellow athletes and sports leagues coming together for something positive. We have such a huge platform that we can use to do good and give back. It makes me feel good to be a part of that.
The name Ali is synonymous with using sports to make a difference in society, which is what the Sports Humanitarian Awards are all about — how much more meaningful is this event given your personal family history?
Regardless of the family history or not, it would be meaningful. It’s important that we get the right messages out. Knowing the things my father [Muhammad Ali] did over the years, I always looked at athletes and wanted them to emulate the things he has done.
How have sports helped drive humanitarianism?
Entering sports has taught me so much about myself. That first time when your mind is telling you to quit but your body keeps going and you break a barrier within yourself and you all you can think is “Wow.”
Part of being the best we can be is giving back to society, helping uplift children and being a great example. What I love about the event is that the entire sports industry comes together to celebrate. It shows how leagues, teams, individuals and companies can use the power of sports for a positive impact on society.
What thoughts come to mind when thinking about Stuart Scott and his legacy when discussing the ENSPIRE Award?
Stuart Scott was such a great person outside of being excellent at his job. He was a wonderful man and I think being able to stand up on stage in front of the world, while being strong and giving back to the foundation is what was most inspiring. That’s the other thing I love about the event, the money is going towards the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund at The V Foundation.
That reminds me how we are role models (if you want to be or not) and people are watching you. It’s important to put the right message out there in every way, shape and form. When you are able to use your name, likeness and energy to give back, that’s the most amazing thing you can do.
Who is your role model?
At the top, I would have to say my father and Billie Jean King (who will also be honored with an ENSPIRE Award). Billie Jean King is a legend not only as a female athlete but because she broke barriers. She opened up people’s minds, brought responsiveness to areas that need attention and sports equality. She has been on the forefront with her Foundation, the Women’s Sports Foundation, upholding Title IX. She is so passionate about the work that she does that it makes everybody else on the team fired up.