Black History Month Sports Tribute: The Unheralded Pioneers
Most of society is familiar with such icons as Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Muhamad Ali, Jim Brown, Jackie Robinson and Serena Williams. In honor of Black History Month, here is a list of some of the unheralded or lesser known pioneers and influential pillars that paved the way and made some lasting impacts in their individual fields as well as the world of sports as whole from integration to becoming legends of their respective games that most people aren’t familiar with.
Everybody knows baseball legend Jackie Robinson, but the man nicknamed Hank “Hammer” or “Hammer Hank” Aaron played 21 seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves from 1954 to 1976 and currently serves as the senior vice president of the Braves. He still holds the MLB record for most runners batted in (RBI) with 2297 and his 755 home runs are second all-time.
She is widely recognized as one of if not the best female basketball player of her generation and even of all-time. Miller was a member of the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
After a Hall of Fame career as a tight end for the Cleveland Browns, Newsome assumed a front office career after his playing days came to an end and when the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore, he became the first African American general manager in NFL history.
He has had a Hall of Fame worthy career as an executive during his time at the helm of the Ravens selecting two first ballot Hall of Famers in Johnathan Ogden and Ray Lewis with his first two draft picks, building two Superbowl winning rosters and developed a reputation as a draft guru before he stepped into a reduced role at the end of this last season.
He became the first African American starting quarterback in NFL history to not just win a Superbowl but also Superbowl MVP with his when he led the Washington Redskins to game’s ultimate at the end of the 1987 season.
He set NFL record for touchdowns thrown in the first half with four and finished with 340 yards passing in Superbowl XXII (22).
After a 23-year professional career and being selected to nine pro bowls, he became not just the first African American quarterback but also the first undrafted quarterback to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He was also a prolific passer in the CFL (Canadian Football League) where he won five Grey Cups.
Willie Eldon O’Ree
The native Canadian became the first black player in NHL history, is referred to as the Jackie Robinson of hockey for breaking the sport’s color barrier and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November of 2018.
Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall
In 1920 they became the first African Americans in the NFL. Pollard would go on to become the first black head coach in league history and would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton and Earl Lloyd
They became the first African American players in the NBA in 1950 and Cooper was the first African American to get drafted when he was selected with the first pick of the second round by the Boston Celtics.
Emlen Lewis Tunnell
He was the first African American to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967 and was named to the All Decade team of the 1950’s.
The founder of the New York Renaissance basketball team who is referred to as the “Father of Black Professional Basketball” was the first African American to own a basketball team but also to be enshrined into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972 as a contributor.
The late professional golfer and tennis legend was the not only the first black woman, but also the first black person period to break the international color barrier of tennis and was the first African American to win Grand Slam title. She would win 11 of those titles over the course of her career.
She was an Olympic athlete that specialized in the high jump event and became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she competed in the 1948 games in London.
Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers
The duo became the first African Americans to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics when they competed in the two-woman bobsled event at the 2002 games.
At the spry age of 18 the track cyclist became the first African American to be crowned a world champion when he won the sprint event at the 1899 world track championships in Canada and became the second African American to win a national championship.
Antoinette “Toni” Harris became the first African American female and just the second female in history to get offered a scholarship to play college football when she received an offer to play at Bethany College, a NAIA college located in Lindsborg, Kan.
He was the only player to be named MVP of both the National League and the American League. He also became the first African American manager in the MLB in 1975 when he was put in charge of the Cleveland Indians. He would also go on to manage the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles. He was inducted in the Baseball Hall of fame in 1982.