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Abdullah pays tribute to Muhammad Ali

Ameer Abdullah was born almost 12 years after Muhammad Ali's last fight, and the only appreciation and memories the Detroit Lions' running back has of Ali's greatness and extraordinary ring brilliance are shaped from the videos and highlights Abdullah has seen.

But aside from what Ali accomplished in his legendary career, what Ali did in and out of the ring that made him a historic world figure left as much a mark on Abdullah as the punches he landed on opponents that made him a three-time heavyweight champion.

Ali, who died over the weekend at the age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, converted to the Islam faith in the 1960s. He refused induction into the Army as a conscientious objector, based on his faith.

Like Ali, Abdullah is a Muslim, and his appreciation for Ali extended beyond his dazzling boxing skills and showmanship. It was heightened by Ali's adherence to the principles of his faith.

Abdullah expressed his feelings in a statement released in response to a request by the Associated Press after Ali's death.

"Muhammad Ali is the greatest competitor there ever was," Abdullah said in the statement. "He challenged himself day in and day out to improve on his crafts. One of my favorite quotes of his is, 'Don't count the days, make the days count.'

"This relentless effort to improve is why Muhammad Ali was always a distant mentor for me. I try to replicate the drive he exemplified throughout his career, with everything I do in life because I believe it's that constant passion for improvement that makes champions.

"His devotion to the Islamic faith will always be an inspiration for me as a young Muslim."

Abdullah is aware of the scrutiny Muslims are under in America. There were questions about his faith at his press conference when the Lions drafted him in the second round in 2015. The questions were not adversarial in any way, but Abdullah was the only one of the Lions' seven draft picks who was asked about his religion.

In his statement to the AP, Abdullah spoke about the Islamic faith:

"As Muslims we are often the minority, especially in sports. Ali was a true ambassador for the Islamic community for his courage and devotion to his faith through very trying times.

"Recently there has been much criticism of the Islamic faith in the national perception, and as a professional athlete I look to examples such as Muhammad Ali, who carried himself with absolute dignity when standing up for his faith in trying circumstances.

"I want to wish his family and loved ones much peace, and also want to let them know his arms of influence have stretched across the world and have inspired so many.

"Long live the Champ."

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