CW: Mention of sexual abuse in Gymnastics section
Sports in America have been revolutionized by talented Black athletes. Many athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, have even used their fame and status to spread awareness about Black issues and stand up for other marginalized communities. These are just a few of many incredibly talented Black athletes in American history.
Jackie Robinson was the first Black baseball player in the MLB (Major League Baseball), setting the stage for many more Black Americans to participate in professional sports in America. He played in six World Series, earning the Dodgers a World Series win in 1955. He frequently spoke out against racial discrimination and was a key figure in the civil rights movement.
Willie Mays was a 24-time All-Star in the MLB and is one of baseball’s most accomplished players. He also advocated for many other Black American athletes and helped organize tours to showcase many Black talents.
Curt Flood, a gifted baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, also used his platform to challenge MLB contracts and inspire other American professional athletes to do the same in order to win free-agency rights.
Track and Field
Jesse Owens was an incredibly gifted track and field athlete and set five world records in sprints and long jump. He was the most decorated athlete in the 1936 Olympics and won a total of four gold medals.
Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals for her sprinting at the Olympics, despite facing both racial discrimination and being diagnosed with Polio as a child. She fought for women’s and civil rights throughout her life and was an inspiration to young Black women across the nation.
Florence Griffith Joyner was a world-record sprinter in the Olympics, earned a gold medal, and worked in the fashion industry - expressing the importance of individuality with her unique and fluorescent track attire.
Gabby Douglas was the first Black gymnast to win individual all-around champions in the London Olympics. She also helped her team win the gold for their team event in the 2016 Olympics.
Simone Biles has broken numerous records in U.S. gymnastic history and has become an icon in the gymnastic world. She has four gold medals and three bronze medals and worked with Gabby Douglas and other talented gymnasts to earn their gold medal in 2016. She has also used her fame to speak out against the sexual abuse she faced, and advocate for sexual abuse survivors all around the world.
Dianne Durham was the first Black national gymnastics champion, who just recently passed away at the age of 52. After her historic win, she then went on to become a gym owner, a national-level judge, and a coach.
Jack Johnson was a competitive boxer in the early 1900s and fought lots of racial discrimination to earn the titles that he deserved.
Muhammad Ali was an incredibly influential athlete in America and spoke out against many issues facing American society - advocating for civil rights, finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease, ending islamophobia, and more.
Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, is just as outspoken about social issues as her father was. She is an undefeated world boxing champion who has brought more attention to women’s boxing.
Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first Black football players to participate in the NFL (National Football League). Marshall, a tight end, also participated and thrived in track, boxing, baseball, and ice hockey. Pollard, a running back, also became the first Black head coach in the NFL.
Colin Kaepernick has been both an incredible activist and football player in America. He first used his platform as a professional football player to kneel during the national anthem in protest against the mistreatment of Black Americans and other minorities. Although he was kicked out of the NFL, his activism continues and he has paved the way for many other athletes to protest in American sports.
Doug Williams became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and be an MVP in the NFL. His successes also inspired many players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to be drafted for the NFL.
Charlie Sifford was the first Black golfer to enter the PGA (Professional Golfers Association), despite the numerous threats and backlash he received. His presence at this tournament broke the barriers for Black golfers, causing the Tour to allow people of all races to compete. He was extremely gifted in his sport, entering over 400 tournaments, receiving over 50 top 10 finishes and 22 professional wins.
Tiger Woods is an incredibly gifted golfer, with four Masters titles and is tied for the most wins ever in PGA Tour history. He continues to be one of the most influential and decorated golfers in America.
Lee Elder became the first Black player to compete in the Master's Tournament in 1975, receiving many threats and discrimination in the process. He went on to compete in the tournament five times, inspiring Black men and women to pursue their athletic dreams despite racial discrimination in America.
Althea Gibson was the first Black American athlete to compete in International Tennis, becoming the first Black woman to win a Grand Slam title in 1956 at the French Championships. She also won the U.S. nationals and Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958 and won a total of eleven Grand Slam wins.
Arthur Ashe was the first Black tennis player to win three Grand Slam titles in the 1968 U.S. Open, the 1970 Australian Open, and the 1975 Wimbledon. He also used his fame to help many people - organizing tennis programs for inner-city youth, denouncing apartheid in South Africa, spreading awareness about his AIDS, and even launching an AIDS foundation.
Serena Williams, an incredibly talented tennis player with 23 Grand Slam Titles, winning the most titles since 1968. Both she and her sister (Venus Williams) have inspired many young tennis players. Serena has also used her platform to shed many stigmas around women in sports.
Bill Russell was the first Black coach in the NBA (National Basketball Association), as well as the first to win an NBA championship as a coach for the Boston Celtics. Before his coaching career, he was an incredible basketball player who played center for the Celtics who helped his team to win 11 championships.
Kobe Bryant was an incredible athlete, playing basketball for the Lakers and earning a gold medal in basketball in the 2008 Olympics. He also spread awareness for women’s sports.
Lisa Leslie is a pioneer of women’s basketball, earning three WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) MVP awards, and two WNBA championships.