Mr. Ali, a three-time heavyweight champion who died in 2016 at the age of 74, in 1967 refused to be drafted, out of opposition to the Vietnam War. Courts rejected his arguments, judging him guilty of draft evasion. Boxing officials denied him licenses to fight for more than three years.
Trump said that “instead of talk,” he is going to ask protesting players to suggest “people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system.”
The president said football players have “seen a lot of abuse” and “a lot of unfairness” and that he wants their input on his use of this executive power.
“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.
Muhammad Ali’s attorney Ron Tweel said “there is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”
“I’m thinking about someone you all know very well,” Trump said Friday at the White House. “He went through a lot and he wasn’t very popular then – no, I’m not thinking about O.J. – look, he was not very popular then.
Certainly his memory is very popular now. I’m thinking about Muhammad Ali. I’m thinking about that very seriously, and some others.”
“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary,” he wrote in a statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971.”
Posthumous pardons are rare, as Justice Department guidelines say the agency won’t accept for processing applications for such pardons, noting that time is better spent on applicants who are still living and would “truly benefit from a grant of clemency.”
On Friday, the president said: “There will be more pardons.” He added: “The pardons are a very positive things for a president.”
Trump already has granted a posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, more than 100 years after many saw as his racially charged conviction.
Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-white jury of violating the Mann Act for traveling with his white girlfriend. That law made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes.