African-American athletes influence on the world of sports

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on others’ lives.”

This was said by Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the Major League Baseball, who paved the way for other African-Americans in the world of sports.

February is black history month, and African-Americans have had a huge influence in many different areas of sports. Some sports would not be the same with out the influence of certain black athletes.

What would basketball be without Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson? What would boxing be without Muhammad Ali or baseball without Jackie Robinson? Even in our time, young Tiger Woods broke the color barriers of a white-dominated sport.

Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 in Georgia and just 28 years later, he played in his first Major League Baseball game as a Brooklyn Dodger. That same year, he was awarded the very first Rookie of the Year award by The Sporting News. Before winning that award, Robinson played a few different sports at UCLA, was drafted into the army, and played in the Negro and minor baseball leagues. Robinson faced hostile fans, insults and lots of criticism for playing the game he loved, but, because he didn’t back down, he is one of the biggest influences in baseball history.

Michael Jordan is one of the biggest names of basketball ever. When asked who the most influential African-American athlete is, most people say Michael Jordan. He is popular, talented, a true businessman, and a role model to people everywhere. Jordan began his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls in 1984 and ended it with the Washington Wizards in 2003 with a total of 32,292 career points. Jordan is not only talented on the court, but also has had success off the court as a salesman endorsing everything from Nike to Gatorade, Hanes, and even his own line of shoes and clothes. Many say Jordan is a true role model to children because he was such a talented performer and great guy off the court; he showed heart in everything he did. “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot…and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed,” Jordan was quoted as saying.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Muhammad Ali changed his name when he converted to the Muslim religion. Not only a boxer, Ali was also a social activist, having a huge impact on society. In the boxing world, he was the first fighter to win the heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, and he owned the title 19 times. Outside of boxing, Ali’s message of black pride and black resistance paved the way for the civil rights movement. Ali finished his career in 1981 with 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts, assuring his place as one of the greatest boxers ever. Ali’s talent and courage to stand up for what he believed was right were admirable qualities and influenced more than just boxers or African Americans, it influenced people everywhere.

For the younger generation, there are dominant African American influences too. Serena and Venus Williams have impacted women’s tennis with their huge successes. They have won the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the French Open. Venus signed a deal with Reebok, which was the biggest endorsement deal for a female athlete ever.

Tiger Woods changed the game of golf by winning the British Open, the Masters and the U.S. Open in a white dominated sport. He is the youngest person ever to win these championships.

The Williams sisters and Woods have influenced minorities to join sports that usually were dominated by white athletes, and allowed them to see that they can succeed.

Sports have been greatly influenced by black athletes everywhere in every sport. Some that must be mentioned also are Jesse Owens, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner (“FloJo”), and Willie Mays. There are so many others also.

Many athletes in the professional leagues, in universities and other colleges, and even those here at Skyline would not be playing if it hadn’t been for these pioneers of the game. And these athletes paved the way for the future legends to be made.