Bernard Hopkins, who served as the keynote speaker at the inaugural Origins of Muhammad Ali 5K Saturday, said the official visit to Senegal two years ago by Barack Obama was one of the most important of his professional career. He said Obama’s meeting with Senegal’s president helped the United States and Senegal successfully fight the Ebola crisis.
“This is a really important time because we have achieved tremendous heights together in the last two years,” Hopkins said. “These are new leaders and new developments. We must work and build a relationship between the people of the United States and African nations. We have to make it a clean and a positive one. It’s not going to be hate and war, it’s just going to be business.”
Hopkins — along with his wife, Deonte, and daughter, Aaliyah, who carried the oath of office — was joined by Senegalese Minister of Youth Leysha Sall at the event held at the Ellipse in Northwest Washington. Just before a ceremony at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Hopkins spoke to reporters about a dozen minutes about a myriad of topics, including the importance of athletes speaking out against oppression. He spoke specifically about Colin Kaepernick, who has drawn so much attention to racial injustice via his refusal to stand for the national anthem, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement and other protests that have played out since the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va.
“It’s just unfortunate when everything is about sports but we’re people, and we have to be vocal,” Hopkins said. “We have to be visible. Black sports are making great strides in speaking up against these racists, but it should be everybody.”
Hopkins, who has run in several marathons since retiring in 2009, said he played high school football, and would have protested as a player, even if he had received the right to do so. The problem, he said, was that the protests were largely far less prominent because the athletes were in another class of athletes entirely.
“If I was a young athlete or a young entertainer, I would have exercised my First Amendment right,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know the language of ‘take a knee,’ or ‘take a stand,’ but I know when you hear somebody talking about doing it. But when you’re in the same league as most of us, and you are in a sport, in a game, you can only do it at halftime because you’re running, you’re walking, you’re eating. All the things you would like to do when you are between the lines are not possible. So we don’t say anything because you have such a huge audience.”
Asked about his own presidential ambitions, Hopkins said he doesn’t have a timetable in mind, but noted that if he decided to run, he would be ready.
“I would have had the president-elect of the United States tell me a month ago, he already told me before he got to the Oval Office how I was going to do things,” Hopkins said. “He did this before he got the job.”