Cass White, Staff Writer
Every February is considered Black History Month, and every day of this month we honor great African American leaders by giving thanks. We reflect on these powerful leaders and those who have made huge impacts in various areas. One such area is sports. We can see the influence of African American individuals by studying a few successful individuals both from recent years and decades past.
First of all, sports would not be the same without the influence of Tiger Woods. Woods shook the golf world up when he won the Masters, the U.S Open and the British Open. He was the first Black golfer to accomplish these sorts of feats in a typically Caucasian-dominated sport. Also, Woods was the youngest golfer to win these championships.
Another set of notable athletes are the Williams Sisters; Serena and Venus have had a huge impact in women’s tennis. The women have had unbelievable success, both winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S Open. Venus signed one of the biggest endorsement deals for a female athlete in history with Reebok, another landmark event. The Williams Sisters have dominated tennis which, again, is usually a primarily white sport, influencing all races to venture and strive for success.
Then there is Michael Jordan, one of the biggest names in sports history. Jordan’s popular appeal, talent and great business tactics made him a role model for all races. Jordan revolutionized the game by bringing a slick style that would change basketball forever. Personal details like wearing longer shorts, having one pair of shoes and his overall swagger confirmed him as legend.
As we can see, African Americans have had a huge influence on sports in all categories and areas, from college to professional level. There are great pioneer legends with influential stories that paved the way for today’s black athletes such as Jesse Owens (Track), Marlin Briscoe (Football), Debi Thomas (Skating), Bobo Brazil (Boxing), Althea Gibson (Tennis), Ernie Davis (Football), Bill Russell (Basketball) and so many others. Two of the most influential Black Athletes who have had a major impact on sports are Jack “Jackie” Robinson and Muhammad Ali.
“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free,” proclaimed Jackie Robinson. Robinson was the first African American athlete to play in Major League Baseball, breaking the color line when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. During his first season with the Dodgers, Robinson earned the “Rookie of the Year” award. However, this success was not an easy process for Robinson. The player suffered immense persecution and bullying from having things thrown at him, pitchers attempting to hit him, enduring racial slurs or referees and opposing teams attempting to get him ejected from games. Robinson was abused verbally by the crowds and opposing teams, but he did not let this affect his level of play. Instead, the injustice only motivated him to strive more, be a role model and be the best person he could be. Jackie would be one of the first players to be a complete player able to hit, bunt, run and steal bases; averaging a career batting average of an astonishing .311 to match an outrageous 197 career stolen bases. He had such a huge impact on the game that the MLB universally retired his jersey number, 42, banning it from play except on “Jackie Robinson Day.”
“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free. Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?“ This a quote from the great Muhammad Ali, who some consider the best boxer to step inside the ring while still others title him the greatest athlete of all time. Ali had a huge impact on boxing, where he was titled as the Heavyweight Champion of the World in 1964 at 22 (the youngest champ in history) and would eventually be Champion on three other occasions. Ali also influenced the black community, becoming a social activist by spreading his Black Pride and Muslim knowledge. He revitalized and changed the sport of boxing forever with his powerful, creative and big personality. Leaders like Ali and Robinson opened the door for African American athletes of today to continue to make history in the world of sports.