As the daughter of legendary boxer Muhammed Ali and a professional fighter herself, Ali is using her athleticism and competitive nature for a new purpose. As a contestant on NBC’s new military-based reality show Stars Earn Stripes, she performs high-risk operations to win money for charity. Here, she chats about stunts she wouldn’t do, why the Olympics are important for young women and how she manages her time.
Vixen: When you were first approached about doing Stars Earn Stripes, was it an automatic yes?
Laila Ali: Yes, I definitely got excited about doing it but I did stop to think about it and ask a few questions regarding what types of things we’d be doing like are we gonna be free-falling out of any helicopters or parachuting ’cause if that was the case, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. (laughs) But I was attracted to the physical and competitive side of the show.
Are you scared of heights?
Not that I’m scared of heights, but I’m just not somebody who seeks thrills, jumping and falling out of the sky. I don’t like to put my life at risk.
You have kids so it makes sense.
The contestants still had to do a bunch of dangerous tasks so what was the most challenging part about doing the show?
Repelling off a four-story building. That proved to be a lot for me, which I didn’t realize till the time I was faced with it. I was scared to do it and didn’t wanna do it but I wasn’t gonna quit. I was just happy when it was over.
What was your father’s reaction when he found out you were part of the show?
I never told him. I need to call him and tell him now. I don’t stop and tell people what I’m doing. I just do it. He’ll see it when everybody else sees it, but I’m sure he’ll say I’m even crazier than he thought I was before. I don’t think he would’ve been doing it in his day.
Now there’s been some backlash from nonprofit organizations saying that the show is trivializing war. How do you combat against that type of criticism?
Everybody has a right to their opinion and there’s always a spin they can put on something but I don’t think we’re sensationalizing war. What we’re doing is showing what what the military does on our behalf everyday, how they sacrifice their lives so that we can live our lives in peace. Regardless of how you feel about war, whether there should be or not, we should still appreciate all those who do go out and fight for us. It is a show and it’s entertaining but we are raising money for charity.
There’s a good mix of people involved including Todd Palin and Nick Lachey. What was the chemistry like within the group?
We had so much respect for the military operatives because they are like heroes to us. All the celebrities looked up to them and some of them were fans of ours so we hit it off really well. You have to respect people when they’re teaching you something and they have the knowledge and the skills that you need to do well and not get hurt because it can be dangerous.
Now the Olympics are over but Gabby Douglas has become America’s sweetheart. As a respected female athlete, what does her victories mean to you?
It’s great seeing a young African American reach her goals and realize her dreams. As an athlete, you love to see somebody who works hard and deserves to get it. As a person, you love to see her mom in a position where life will be easier for her. As an African American, it’s nice to see black people on top. All the people who won medals in Track, Clarissa Shields who won gold in women’s boxing in the Olympics for the first time here in the United States, all these young sisters, you love seeing them do their thing. I didn’t have the opportunity to go to the Olympics because I wasn’t an amateur boxer and women’s boxing wasn’t in the Olympics till now but I’m really happy for these young girls to be carrying the torch.
I think everyone was motivated to be something after watching the London games.
When I saw women’s boxing on the TV for the first time, it was more than I gotta get active or lose weight. I was truly inspired. Then the seed was planted and I became a fighter so the people who are our next Serena, our next Gabby, they were watching and they’re gonna be doing something with that and that’s what we need to see. I’m the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and our whole goal is to keep young girls strong and active through sports and physical education and so it’s great for them to see these images of young women.
You recently did a web show called Around The Clock that touches on topics like marriage and motherhood. What is your advice to strong, independent women who have too much on their plate?
I feel like that’s the story of my life. It’s hard and we can’t always be perfect but the main thing is keeping priorities in order. I’d rather do things with quality than quantity. You gotta learn to say no and when it’s too much. I have a very ambitious to-do list everyday but for me, my family comes first and then business and everything else comes second. Things get done a little slower but they get done. You just got to make sacrifices.
Catch ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ every Monday at 8pm on NBC.