Up for Debate: 7 of the Greatest Black Athletes In Sports History
Early in American history, African American athletes struggled to make their mark in professional sports as a result of racism. While the Olympic games started in 1896 as a means of showcasing athletic excellence from all walks of life, the United States, opted to exclude Black athletes from the games, simply based on the color of their skin.
For the most part, professional sports in America in the 1900s was dominated by white athletes. It took over 25 more years since the first Olympics games for the first black baseball league to be formed. It was called the National Negro League and it was formed by Andrew "Rube" Foster. Since then, Americans started to take notice of the unique athleticism of African Americans, especially following Jesse Owen's extraordinary performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.Shortly after, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, paving the way for Black athletes to display mastery in a variety of sports. Earl-Lloyd followed after that as the first African American to play in an NBA game. The rest as they say is history!
Black athletes have since dominated many sports and continue to break feats we didn't think were possible. This article showcases 7 Black athletes who have arguably dominated their relative sports and are considered the greatest of all time.
Basketball: Michael Jordan
You can't talk about basketball without mentioning Michael Jordan—and for good reason. With 30.1 ppg average, he holds the record for the highest career average in the history of the NBA. Nearly 20 years after he retired, basketball stars are still struggling to beat his legendary stats.
Tennis: Serena WilliamsSince beginning her professional career in 1995, Williams has overcome a slew of major injuries, personal tragedies, and discrimination to win a total of 4 Olympic gold medals and 23 Grand Slam Titles—the majority of which she earned alongside her sister Venus. Ultimately, she has won the most Grand Slam titles (in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles) in tennis history, and is arguably the greatest sportsperson of all time
Poker: Phil Ivey
Known for his keen observation skills, Phil Ivey can outsmart any casino at its own game. He credits his love of the sport to his grandfather, who taught him the basics of poker. And though the most popular variants of the game are Texas Hold’Em, 5 Card Draw, and Omaha, his favorite and first love, which his grandfather passed on to him, is inarguably 5 Card Stud. Ivey is now known as the "Tiger Woods" of poker, and has 10 World of Poker bracelets to his name.
Golf: Tiger Woods
You can't mention the Tiger Woods of poker without paying homage to the Tiger Woods! It's no exaggeration to say that Woods could play golf as soon as he could walk, and he eventually went on to become the youngest Masters champion in golf history at the age of 21. He's also the only golfer to win 4 Major Championships in a row! Woods is considered so formidable that players who compete in tournaments with him are more likely to perform poorly—a scientific phenomenon now known as the "Tiger Woods effect."
Track: Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce
One of the greatest sprinters of all time, the Jamaican track star has won over 25 medals in various international championships across the globe. In 2019, she was declared the fastest woman in the world after winning the women's 100m final at the World Championships in Doha. This victory, which came a mere two years after the birth of her son, established her as the oldest sprinter and first mother in more than 20 years to win a global 100m race.
Artistic gymnastics: Simone Biles
Simone Biles is so good at gymnastics that, a year before she competed in 2016 Rio Olympics, she became the most decorated US gymnast in history—male or female. Thanks to her short stature, she can perform more complex skills, and her routines are peppered with many that are considered to be the most difficult in the sport. In fact, the FIG Women's Technical Committee now has to penalize her to avoid devaluing the scores of her competitors. Now that she's the most decorated gymnast ever, we can only imagine what she'll do next!
Chess: Maurice Ashley
In 1999, Maurice Ashley became the first Black person to earn the title of grandmaster—but he wasn't always interested in chess. Growing up in Jamaica, Ashley played a lot of board games, and he only looked upon chess as one of many. It wasn't until he was delivered a crushing defeat by a schoolmate when he moved to America that he became more interested in the sport. Today, he's inspired a whole new generation of Black chess players to rise up the ranks themselves.
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