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Through Will Smith’s surprisingly persuasive performance in “Ali,” the champ is — again — larger than life. In Michael Mann’s generous biopic, Muhammad Ali is celebrated for his life outside the boxing ring as much as for his victories making him (twice) the world heavyweight champion. Although a decent part of the movie is devoted to Ali’s refusal to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War, “Ali” is curiously opaque on the details of the champ’s journey through the legal system. That journey is worth recounting in greater detail. In April 1960, when his name was still Cassius Clay, the 18-year-old boxer registered for the military draft in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. Originally classified as available for the draft, Clay subsequently was reclassified as “not qualified under current standards for service in the armed services” after performing poorly on the mental aptitude test. (As Thomas Hauser recounts in “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times,” Ali somewhat sheepishly told reporters, “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest.”) Then, in 1966, with the escalation of the Vietnam War, the Army lowered the required mental aptitude score, and Ali — he had changed his name several years earlier after joining the Nation of Islam — became eligible for the draft. During the following year, Ali and his attorneys attempted to secure him an exemption on the grounds that, among other things, he was a conscientious objector. In order to demonstrate that he qualified for conscientious objector status, Ali was required under the law to show that: (1) his objection to military service was sincere; (2) it was based on religious training and belief; and (3) he was opposed to participation in all wars of any kind. By the time Ali was drafted in 1967, he had been a member of the Nation of Islam for several years. Ali and his attorneys sparred with the government over all three factors, especially over whether the Nation of Islam actual

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