Obama and music superstar Bruce Springsteen discussed their heroes on the season finale of their Spotify podcast Renegades: Born in the USA, which will be released Monday. Springsteen named boxer and civil rights activist Muhammad Ali among his choices.
"Muhammad Ali," Springsteen said. "He's way, way at the top."
Ali refused to serve in the U.S. military for the Vietnam War after being drafted, a decision that led to a five-year prison term that was later overturned by the Supreme Court, but his status as a conscientious objector made him an icon beyond the world of sports from the 1960s until his death in 2016.
The Louisville native, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1960 and eventually became a fan favorite as a heavyweight boxing champion, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Obama, who called the Ali pick "solid," then turned the attention to Robinson and the impact he made on America as a whole.
"Not only does Jackie Robinson make all of Black America proud to see him compete and excel in the face of the most vicious treatment and threats, but he also changes the hearts and minds of white America through the process," Obama said. "The number of white guys of a certain generation who will tell me how that changed them or their dads—what it meant for an eight-year-old kid in the stands to be rooting for a Black guy."
Robinson's impact on baseball is immeasurable. Not only did he break MLB's color barrier, but he quickly established himself as one of the sport's best players, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and the National League MVP Award two years later with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Like Ali, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984, and MLB continues to honor his legacy with Jackie Robinson Day every April 15, when players all wear his No. 42, which is otherwise retired.
The Renegades: Born in the USA season finale features a conversation between Obama and Springsteen about the "search for a unifying American story that reflects the cultural richness and vastness of America."
Other topics explored during the podcast's debut season include race in the United States, American music and fatherhood.