Editor’s Note: The Sentinel sports staff is putting together a summer series looking at the legacies of the most influential African-American athletes in history. Today, the series looks at current Black athletes experiencing success.
Today’s Black athletes are standing on the shoulders of giants.
Because of pioneers like Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali and many others, athletes like LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Patrick Mahomes, P.K. Subban and more are able to thrive in today’s world.
LeBron has separated himself as one of the two greatest NBA players of all time, alongside Michael Jordan.
LeBron played in eight-consecutive NBA Finals from 2011-18 while playing for the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and has captured three NBA Championships, four MVPs, three finals MVPs, 12 All-NBA First Team honors, five All-Defensive First Team honors, 16 All-Star Game appearances (three All-Star MVPs) and two Olympic gold medals.
That’s quite a list — and that’s not even everything.
In addition to his accolades on the court, he has hosted the ESPYs, Saturday Night Live and was in the 2015 film, “Trainwreck.”
LeBron is an icon in a much more accessible world than his predecessors had — and it’s all thanks to their boundary-breaking actions.
LeBron has followed in NBA legends’ footsteps by trying to make a better world for African-Americans. In 2016, he donated $2.5 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in support of a Muhammad Ali exhibit. In 2017, he founded the I Promise School, a public elementary to help elementary students stay in school.
LeBron has consistently made his voice heard in the wake of social issues.
“Being black in America is tough,” LeBron said. “We got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America.”
Tiger Woods is another athlete at the top of his sport. Already a golfing legend, Woods is tied for first in PGA Tour wins, second behind Jack Nicklaus in major wins and is set to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2021.
Woods stormed into the golf world with a record-breaking win at the 1997 Masters at the age of 21, in which he won by 12-strokes. He was No. 1 in the world from August 1999 to September 2004, and also from June 2005 to October 2010. Courses actually increased yardage on holes because of Woods’ dominance over other golfers — a change Woods welcomed.
Now that is the definition of cool.
After suffering years of marital strife, injuries and a hiatus from golf, Woods got his first major win in 11 years at the 2019 Masters. Woods is also the highest-paid golfer in the world.
But if it wasn’t for early Black golf legends like Charlie Sifford — who Woods named one of his sons after — none of this ever would’ve been possible.
In tennis, the Williams sisters are synonymous with greatness and a symbol in women’s tennis. Serena Williams is a 23-time Grand Slam title winner, while Venus Williams is a seven-time winner. They are the first two players, male or female, to play in four consecutive Grand Slam singles finals. They are the only pair to complete the Career Doubles Golden Slam. in 2010, they became co-No. 1 players. Both women have four gold medals — the most of any tennis athletes.
Venus stood up to racial injustice at the 2001 Indian Wells Masters. Four minutes before her semifinal matchup with Serena, Venus withdrew due to racist chants from the crowd. The next day, Serena and the sisters’ father, Richard Williams, were booed throughout the competition and the trophy presentation. Richard accused the crowd of more racist remarks that day.
The Williams, like their predecessors and Black female pioneers like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Wilma Rudolph, fought through injustice.
Patrick Mahomes has become a household name in just a few years. After an impressive career as the starting quarterback for Texas Tech, Mahomes became a star in his second year with the Kansas City Chiefs. In his debut season, he threw for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns 12 interceptions. He and Peyton Manning are the only two quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in both college and the NFL.
That season, he was named to the Pro Bowl, named First-Team All-Pro, won the Offensive Player of the Year and MVP awards and is one of four Black QBs to win the AP MVP award. He led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win since 1970 in the 2019-20 season. He was named Super Bowl MVP, the second Black QB to do so. The other? Doug Williams.
Mahomes recently signed a 10-year contract worth over $500 million, the richest contract in North American sports’ history.
It’s hard to think that would be possible without Doug Williams’ trendsetting career.
In the NHL, PK Subban is a Black athlete who has thrived in a predominately white sport. In 2013, Subban won the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defenseman and is in the midst of an eight-year, $72 million contract. He was the cover athlete for the NHL 19 video game.
Known for his brash and outspoken personality, Subban has had numerous bouts with racism from opposing fans — and players — throughout his career. Subban has been just as effective off the ice, too. He raised $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the largest donation toward the hospital by a Canadian athlete ever, in 2015. He also started P.K.’s Blue Line Buddies, which helps build better relations between law enforcement and inner-city youth.
All of these current athletes are building on the work set before them by their predecessors, and these are only a handful of the numerous successful Black athletes in America and around the world.
Simone Biles, only 23 years old, is already America’s most decorated gymnast with 30 American and World Championship medals. Swimmer Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming, and set an Olympic record in the 100-meter freestyle. WNBA star Maya Moore took a break from her successful basketball career to fight for reform in the American justice system. Allyson Felix is the only female track and field athlete with six Olympic gold medals, and is tied for the most decorated female Olympian.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are right up there with LeBron as some of the most influential basketball players of all time. Speed skater Shani Davis, a Northern Michigan alum, was the first Black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual Olympic event in the Winter Games after winning the 1,000-meter event in 2006. He repeated in 2010.
Their work will only continue, and the next generation of Black athletes will look back on these current athletes who set the stage for an open and inclusive world of sports.
— Contact Assistant Sports Editor Beau Troutman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BVTroutman.
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