On April 7, Laila Ali delivered the keynote speech at the “Game Changers: Sports, Gender, and Society” conference at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. The conference explored the relationship between sports and gender in the U.S. and around the world.
Laila is the daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, but she says she never considered being a fighter until she saw two women box before a televised Mike Tyson fight. Only 17 at the time, Laila was “surprised and excited” by the idea of women being able to fight too. It only took eight months for Laila to start training after seeing these women compete.
When she first told her dad that she wanted to be a fighter, he was skeptical. Laila says that he was the type of person that did not believe women should fight. She even called him a chauvinist because of the way he viewed women in sports, among other things. However, when Laila went pro at 22 and became a four-time undefeated boxing world champion with 24 wins (21 of those being knockouts) and zero losses, her father could not help but change his views.
Laila is considered to be the most successful woman in the history of women’s boxing. Since retiring in 2007, she has become a fitness and wellness expert, a television host, a cooking enthusiast, the founder of Laila Ali Lifestyle Brand, and the mother of two. She is also very involved in promoting equality for women in professional sports, and supports programs that encourage women and girls to be confident and healthy through sports.
When she began working with the Women’s Sports Foundation, Laila realized that there are a lot of inequalities in sports. The amount of money set aside for men versus for women is drastically different. Female coaches do not get paid as much as their male counterparts and are far less common due to this pay gap. Additionally, women’s sports are not televised or sponsored as heavily as men’s sports. She believes that if more young people are exposed to the idea of women in sports by the media, they will be more likely to have different views on gender in sports.
As a major supporter of Title IX, a federal law that protects women’s rights to be treated equally in collegiate sports, Laila uses her public spotlight to speak at conferences like Game Changers to address these issues and to be a role model for young women. It is very important to her to be a role model, and every day she is conscious of the decisions she makes and of how they may be received by the public.
“I just think it’s important for me as a public person to always watch what I say, how I act, how I dress, all of those things, because young girls are watching,” says Laila. “You want [these young girls] to see someone they can aspire to be like. That has her clothes on. That they can still stay, she’s pretty, she’s attractive, but she’s also smart, she’s strong, and she’s successful and confident.”
Laila Ali is also the host of “Laila Ali Lifestyle” on PodcastOne, an audio podcast in which she speaks about confidence and facing life’s challenges, and gives insights on fitness, parenting, and a lot more. The podcasts are free and are released every Thursday on iTunes.
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