His name will forever be tied with John Carlos’s after the two raised their fists for a Black Power salute on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics. It was to protest racism and injustices against Black people.
Both men were suspended and banned from the US team and, upon returning home, received death threats.
Along with raising black-gloved fists, John and Tommie also wore their black socks on the podium without shoes. This was an act to represent Black poverty in the US.
About 32 years earlier, the Nazi salute had been allowed during the Olympics and deemed acceptable.
Althea was the first Black player to win a Grand Slam title, a five-time slam winner, and the first Black woman to join the LPGA.
She was sports athlete and a trailblazer. She was also the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Wilma was an American sprinter in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, where she won three gold medals — the first American woman ever to do so.
Bill is a Boston Celtics legend and 11-time — you read that right — NBA champion. Staying with Boston after his playing career, he was the first Black NBA coach and the first to win a title.
In 2011, then-president Barack Obama awarded Bill with the Medal of Freedom for his accomplishments in the civil rights movement and in basketball.
Frederick “Fritz” Pollard was the first Black head coach in the NFL (all while still playing running back) for the Akron Pros and several other teams. He was also one of the first two Black men to play in the NFL and played on seven different teams.
Bobby was also one of the first Black players in the NFL and played for the University of Minnesota. He had quite the athletic résumé: football, baseball, track, wrestling, ice hockey, and boxing.
By 1933, all Black players, including Bobby and Fritz Pollard, had disappeared from the league. It’s easy to look back and see that there was virtually a ban on Black players entering the league.
Charlie was the first Black player on the PGA Tour in 1961. Although his pro golf career started in 1948, he didn’t get a real chance at the tour until the 1959 US Open.
Three-time Grand Slam winner Arthur Ashe was the first Black man to win a singles title. He won at Wimbledon, the Australian Open, and the US Open. In total, he won 18 career titles.
Jackie is a track-and-field athlete who won six Olympic medals — all while overcoming severe asthma. She is a philanthropist in racial equality, women’s rights, and children’s education.
Arguably the greatest basketball player ever (yeah, I said it), the Lakers great has a long list of accomplishments. No, I couldn’t possibly list them all…okay, maybe a few:
Six league MVP awards, six-time NBA champion, 19-time NBA All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team, two Finals MVP awards, 38,387 career points, and 17,440 career rebounds. This man personified “elite career longevity” before LeBron James and Tom Brady.
He has also been a major activist in his post-basketball career and continues to push discussions about race and religion.
During his nine-year NBA career, Mahmoud refused to stand for the national anthem. He referred to the flag as a symbol of oppression and was suspended by the league (which cost him his salary for the game: $31,707). He would silently recite a prayer during the anthem as an alternative way to protest.
Following the 1969 baseball season, Curt became one of the biggest names related to sports labor when he refused to be traded and demanded to be a free agent. This snowballed into free agency in baseball and a part of sports that is key for competitive leagues.
The first Black MLB manager, Frank was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He won two championships and is the only player to be named MVP in both the American League and National League.
The Georgetown coach, who died in August, was the first Black coach to win a collegiate basketball championship. He also won two championships in his NBA career.
Andrew “Rube” Foster founded and managed the Chicago American Giants, one of the best Black baseball teams. This Hall of Famer wasn’t just a fantastic player; he also considered to be the “Father of Black Baseball.”
One of the original blackballed athletes in the public eye, during the championship White House visit, Craig delivered a handwritten note to then-president George H.W. Bush calling attention to the mistreatment of minorities and people living in poverty.
One of the best women to ever play basketball, this four-time WNBA champ walked away from the game in 2019 to focus her efforts on reforming the American justice system.
This former 11th overall pick had only a five-year NFL career, but he’s proof that there is more to football. Over the past decade, he became a teacher in his hometown of Baltimore.
He even created Project Mayhem, a foundation whose mission is supporting the artwork of students in and around Baltimore.
From Colin Kaepernick to LeBron James to the women of the WNBA, Black athletes today continue to do plenty of work off the field for Black communities and social progress.
News – 20 Black Athletes You May Not Know But Who Left Their Mark On The Sports World And Beyond