United States President Donald Trump is thinking “very seriously” about pardoning former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, despite the fact his conviction was already overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971.
It is one of “thousands” of cases the president’s team is reviewing, he told reporters as he left the White House en route to a world leaders’ summit in Canada.
And Trump said he is thinking about soliciting recommendations about other cases to consider from pro football players and other athletes who have protested racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem – a tactic Trump has fiercely denounced.
As reported by Sky Sports, Trump said that, “instead of talk,” he is “going to ask all of those people to recommend to me because that’s what they’re protesting people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system.”
“I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated, friends of theirs or people that they know about and I’m going to take a look at those applications,” he said.
Trump has been on a clemency kick of late, using his power to pardon a growing list that includes a former White House aide, a conservative commentator and a former sheriff convicted of violating a judge’s orders who campaigned with Trump in 2016.
Earlier this week, he commuted the life sentence of a woman whose cause was championed by reality television star Kim Kardashian West.
Last month he granted a posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Actor Sylvester Stallone alerted him to that case.
Trump told reporters Friday his team is now “looking at literally thousands” of people who have come to their attention because they’ve been treated unfairly or their sentences are too long.
“We have 3,000 names. We’re looking at them,” Trump said, calling the power to pardon “a beautiful thing.”
Among them is Ali, who died in 2016.
Born Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after converting to Islam in the 1960s. He refused to serve in the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs, declaring himself a conscientious objector.
He was stripped of his heavyweight crown in 1967, but his legal fight ended in 1971 when the Supreme Court ruled in his favour and overturned his conviction. He regained the world title in 1974.
“I’m thinking about somebody that you all know very well. And he went through a lot. And he wasn’t very popular then,” Trump said. “He certainly, his memory is very popular now.”
Ron Tweel, Ali’s lawyer, pointed out that Ali has no criminal record.
“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary,” he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about why the president feels one is needed.
Trump’s suggestion that professional athletes help him identify cases only seemed to fuel concerns that those without star advocates will be ignored.
“Well, you know, if you think about it, that’s really — that becomes celebrity advocates. But they know a lot of things that we’re not going to know. They’ve seen a lot of abuse and they’ve seen a lot of unfairness,” Trump said.
The idea also sparked backlash from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“President Trump has spent much of his first 18 months in office degrading NFL players who protest police brutality and racial injustice,” said Jeff Robinson, the group’s deputy legal director.
Today, he has tried once again to change the narrative about the work of those and other activists, betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of the cause behind these protests and using racist dog whistles to do it.”
The players have been protesting racial injustice and the high numbers of African Americans killed by police.