One of my favorite things about black history is the impact that African-Americans have had in sports. Some of the most groundbreaking athletes have been black and they have been the trailblazers for some of our heroes of today. Normally I would be breaking down the latest Oklahoma City Thunder game and giving facts about their performance; but today, I’m going to talk about some of the key people that made their current efforts possible. Here’s the facts:
1. George Poage.
Back in the 1904 Summer Olympics, 24 year old Poage became not only the first black man to compete for the United States in the Olympic Games, he became the first to place. Competing in both the 200 and 400 meter hurdles, he won Bronze for his country.
2. Althea Gibson.
South Carolina native Althea Gibson was kind of a big deal when it came to being a crossover athlete. In the 1950’s, Gibson became the first black tennis player to win the French (‘56), Wimbledon (‘57-‘58) and U.S. Open (‘57-‘58) championships. She was also the first African-American player ever invited to Wimbledon. To top it all off, Gibson was also the first African American woman in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
3. Franco Harris.
In 1975 during Super Bowl IX, Harris rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown. As a grand finale, he was named the game’s MVP; the first black player to ever achieve that honor. Harris was named offensive MVP in 1972, rushing touchdown leader in ‘76 and won the Super Bowl three additional times throughout his career.
4. John Baxter Taylor.
Born in Washington D.C. to former slaves, Taylor was the first African-American to win a gold medal for the U.S. during the 1908 Olympic Games in London. Tragically, after a phenomenal performance in the Games, John Baxter Taylor died of Typhoid Fever on December 2nd, 1908 at the age of 26. The New York Times called him the “world’s greatest negro runner.”
5. Fredrick “Duke” Slater.
Duke Slater was not only a professional football player, he was a judge. Playing for the University of Iowa from 1918-1921, Slater was part of the Hawkeyes 1921 national championship team. Playing tackle, Duke was named an All-American for the 1921 season. The next year, he joined the NFL. Playing ten seasons and earning All-Pro honors seven times. In 1928, Slater earned a law degree and practiced in the city of Chicago. In 1948, he became the 2nd African-American judge in Chicago history. A position he held until his death in 1966.
As a black man, I am always honored to know that the history of my people goes deeper than what is just taught on surface level. As a former athlete, I hope my play and actions on and off the field honored the ones who came before me in the sports I played. Any athletes reading this, understand that our privileges in the games we play did not come without great sacrifice. We have such a rich history in athletics. Let’s not forget it. Instead, let’s continue blazing trails for the generations coming up behind us. One day, let’s have them reading about our efforts, knowing how rich our history is.