Top 5 Black Athletes of All Time

Posted: January 16, 2011 in MLB, NFL
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When I was asked to write an article about great black athletes I was a little hesitant. I didn’t want it to be a list of the most popular athletes of all time. It would be too easy to include Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or LeBron James.

I wanted to honor those athletes who not only changed the face of their respective sports but also contributed to the community around them. I wanted to honor athletes that transcended sports and helped change the culture of this country. These are people who I feel who embodied what Dr. King was all about.

5. Jackie Robinson: He was the first black player in Major League baseball. In ten seasons he played in six World Series, was named to six consecutive All Star Games and was the first person to win the MLB Rookie of the Year Award. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired is number, 42, across all teams.

 We have all heard stories of what he was forced to endure during his career, fans threatened his life and called him every racial epithet in the book during games. Some players threatened to strike if he was allowed to play. Even some member of his own teammates didn’t want him there. Through it all he kept his poise and dignity and became a legend.

After his death, his wife, Rachel, founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides scholarships for minority youths for higher education. So far, over 1,400 individuals have received scholarships.

4. Jesse Owens: During the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Jesse Owens won four gold medals. But that was just part of the story. Adolph Hitler wanted to use the games promote the Nazi party and his theory of Aryan supremacy. With every gold medal he won, Jesse Owens stuck it Hitler and every white supremist in Germany.

When he returned to the United States he was celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Unfortunately, he was forced to ride a freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to attend a reception in his honor. He was never invited to the White House or given any honors by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Owens was quoted as saying, “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

3. Hank Aaron: Aaron played 23 years in the Major league and was an All Star 21 times. He is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s all time home run record.  At the end of the 1973 season Aaron was one homerun short of tying the record. During the off season he was besieged by hate mail and death threats from people who did not want to see a black man break Ruth’s record.  Even writers who were supportive of Aaron were receiving death threats.

During that time Hank Aaron stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the 1974 season. His home run record stood for 31 years until Barry Bonds (with a little help from BALCO) broke it in 2007.

2. Muhammad Ali: Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest boxer of all time. He is an Olympic gold medalist and a three-time World Champion.

Brash and outspoken, he is the godfather of every larger than life sports personality out today. Without Ali there would be no Floyd Mayweather or Terrell Owens. But his legacy is far greater than titles or sound bites.

He spoke out against an unjust war in Vietnam. He endured having is championship stripped from him and being banned from boxing for refusing to fight in Vietnam. A large part of America started to view him as a villain. He faced 5 years in prison for his protest. His case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where a lower court conviction was overturned.

1. Jim Brown: Jim Brown played in the NFL for nine years. When he retired he held records for single season and career rushing, the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and all purpose yards. He has a career average of 104.3 rushing yards per game. For my money, he is the greatest football player ever. He is a member of the Pro Football Hal of Fame, the College Football Hall of fame and the Lacrosse hall of Fame (he was All American at Syracuse University).

But he is more than just a football player. He was a civil rights activist. During his early years in the NFL he helped found the Black Economic Union, which helped in the establishment of black-run businesses. He also helped establish urban athletic clubs and youth motivation programs. In 1988 he founded the Amer-I-Can program which works with kids involved in gangs.


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