Racism made it difficult for African American players early in American history to build a name for themselves in professional sports. While the Olympic games were founded in 1896 to showcase athletic prowess in all walks of life, the United States chose to prohibit black competitors from the games due to their skin color.
Professional sports in America in the 1900s were dominated by white athletes for the most part. After that, first Olympic games, it took another 25 years for the first black baseball league to emerge. Andrew “Rube” Foster founded what was known as the National Negro League. Since then, Americans have begun to recognize African Americans’ exceptional athleticism, particularly after Jesse Owens’ outstanding performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Do you know the name of the first African-American hockey player to play in the NHL team? What about the Olympic gold medallist in speed skating from the 2006 Games, or the former track star turned bobsled Olympic medalist? While this list isn’t exhaustive, the achievements of individuals on it are certain to inspire. Learn about some of the American sports giants who shaped the way we watch games today, from fighting ailments to segregation.
She is one of the greatest tennis players and athletes of all time. She began playing at the age of four and was coached by her father. As a young player at tournaments, individuals would hurl racist and insulting statements against Serena, but it didn’t stop her.
Jesse was largely regarded as the best track and field athlete of all time during his lifetime. He is best noted for winning gold medals. He extended his uncanny winning streak at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he became the most decorated athlete with four gold medals in the long jump, the 100 and 200-meter sprints, and the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
MJ tops the list because he was one of the first athletes in ANY sport to have his own shoe line named after him, as well as one of the first multi-millionaire athletes of any kind. With his multi-million dollar contracts, his greatness paved the way for numerous black athletes, and he inspired an entire generation that helped the NBA grow into the powerhouse it is today. Even though he is no longer active, his shoes are still in high demand.
A Dr. Jason Campbell article talks about making things better for young black athletes of today. Sports and academics don’t always go hand in hand for young people of color. One factor is that senior-level coaches and other decision-makers in leadership positions are scarce. According to recent statistics, about three-quarters of high school athletic coaches are white, with less than 9% being African-American.
At the end of 2020, just 14 of the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision college teams have Black head coaches. Only approximately 10% of faculty and staff in American colleges are African-American. Though some iconic athletes like Serena Williams have opened some doors for future generations, it is still not easy for young black athletes. In fact, if the odds of becoming the next LeBron James or Russell Wilson for young boys are slim, the odds for young girls are even worse. When that same little girl ignores the stats and pushes past the haters and naysayers, she not only wins games, but she dominates them! It’s time to honor our black female athletes, both past and present, who have broken down barriers and shattered glass ceilings.