Lost in history: Celebrating exceptional Black athletes

Julia Hyman, Contributing Writer

Muhammad Ali. Jackie Robinson. Serena Williams. These athletes have been iconic champions of their sports, paving the road for those who’ve come after them. Despite fighting hate and injustice, they became some of the best athletes in the world.

But for every athlete that has gone down in history as a pioneer, there are countless others who, unfortunately, have not received the same recognition.

Althea Gibson

As the first Black woman to win a Grand Slam in 1956 and the first Black athlete to join the women’s professional tennis tour, Althea Gibson set the stage for future competitors to pursue their dreams in predominantly white sports.

After becoming the first Black player to be invited to compete at Wimbledon, Gibson established herself as a force to be reckoned with. When Gibson won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open, she proved she deserved to play among the best and became one of the top 10 U.S. tennis players two years in a row.

Achieving this success was no easy feat. Though she consistently won matches and tournaments, Gibson often faced discrimination, and was even refused hotel rooms because of the color of her skin. Despite this injustice, Gibson accomplished her feats with humility and class, making her a role model for all women of color.

Willie O’Ree

As the National Hockey League’s first Black hockey player, Willie O’Ree refused to allow racism and injury to block him from his dream. After an attack from a rogue puck cost him his sight in his right eye, he kept the disability hidden for years so he would still be allowed to play. Even after this, O’Ree continuously had to protect himself from intentional cheap shots.

O’Ree continued his contributions to the sport he loves as director of youth development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force, a nonprofit program for minority youth. With time, the NHL saw the error of its ways, and O’Ree is now revered within the hockey community for his devotion to diversity and inclusion.

Frank Robinson

A leader as well as an athlete, the late Frank Robinson was the ultimate pioneer in baseball. As the first Black manager in Major League Baseball, he set the precedent that class and hard work can allow you to succeed.  

Robinson’s career as a player was full of success, with the titles of Rookie of the Year and MVP of the World Series under his belt. His excellence on the field continued as he developed into a leader within the community.

Among his many achievements, Robinson is remembered for his ability to turn a lowly franchise into a winning team. It is no surprise the was eventually awarded Manager of the Year, as well as recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

These athletes, like so many others, exemplify perseverance and composure in the face of past, and ongoing, racial injustice.. The legacy they have left serves as inspiration for many amidst oppression.