Muhammad Ali's name is one of the most significant yet understudied aspects of the great boxer's extraordinary life. Throughout his career, journalists used Ali's birth name (Cassius Clay) and his Islamic name (Muhammad Ali) to transmit their attitudes toward him. This study interrogates trends in newspaper usage of Ali's two names during the 1960s and 1970s as a way to understand changing public attitudes toward him during this period. It does so via a distant reading of 37,911 digitized newspaper articles obtained from ProQuest Historical Newspapers. By quantitatively visualizing trends and patterns in the usage of the two names, this study reveals that American journalists did not embrace Ali's chosen name until 1971. Acceptance of the name in the press was not gradual but was instead characterized by intense shifts at key points in Ali's career. Finally, this paper addresses the value of digital history—specifically, distant reading—for sport history scholars.


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pp. 380-395
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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