Black History NOW Celebrates the paths paved by those who broke the mold in areas of film, sports, science, art and business. The heroes of today stand on the shoulders of giants, looking ahead and creating even more opportunities for African-Americans to thrive in spaces that were historically denied to our people.
Today, we celebrate Titans of Sports: These icons of athleticism brought broke barriers and proved – while the world looked on – that passion, perseverance and dedication knows no color.
Take a look at a few of our heroes in the gallery below.
1. Jackie RobinsonSource:Getty
The first Black man to be signed up by a Major League baseball team.
At the end of his first season, Jackie Robinson was named the winner of the inaugural Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Rookie of the Year Award. He was named the NL MVP just two years later in 1949, when he led the league in hitting with a .342 average and steals with 37, while also notching a career-high 124 RBI. The Dodgers won six pennants in Robinson’s 10 seasons and captured the 1955 World Series title.
Robinson retired with a .313 batting average, 972 runs scored, 1,563 hits and 200 stolen bases. He remained active in the game as an announcer, and also lent his support to many societal causes.
“Jackie Robinson made my success possible,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.”
2. Althea GibsonSource:General
On May 26, 1956, Althea Gibson became the first black player to triumph in a Grand Slam tournament.
Growing up in Harlem, the young Gibson was a natural athlete. She started playing tennis at the age of 14 and the very next year won her first tournament, the New York State girls’ championship, sponsored by the American Tennis Association (ATA), which was organized in 1916 by Black players as an alternative to the exclusively white USLTA. After prominent doctors and tennis enthusiasts Hubert Eaton and R. Walter Johnson took Gibson under their wing, she won her first of what would be 10 straight ATA championships in 1947.
3. Tiger WoodsSource:Getty
As one of the winningest professional athletes of all-time, Tiger Woods continues to build on his legacy of domination with the characteristic precision and persistence that has helped him redefine the sport of golf.
Tiger won the U.S. Masters at Augusta in 1997 with a record score at age 21, making him the youngest man and the first African American to earn the title. Woods won another 13 majors and was named the PGA Player of the Year 10 times over the next 12 years, but he struggled to regain his top form after personal problems surfaced in 2009. With his victory at the 2019 Masters, Woods claimed his first major title in nearly 11 years, and he went on to tie Sam Snead’s career record of 82 PGA Tour wins later that year.
4. Jack JohnsonSource:Getty
Jack Johnson was the first African American to become heavyweight champion. He is considered by many boxing observers to be one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
Johnson fought professionally from 1897 to 1928 and engaged in exhibition matches as late as 1945. He won the title by knocking out champion Tommy Burns in Sydney on December 26, 1908. Until his fight with Burns, racial discrimination had limited Johnson’s opportunities and purses. When he became champion, a hue and cry for a “Great White Hope” produced numerous opponents.
5. Fritz PollardSource:Getty
In 1921, as coach of the Akron Pros, Fritz Pollard became the first Black head coach in NFL history.
Along with Bobby Marshall, he was also one of the first two Black players. He made history while facing extreme racism. A century later, he’s still one of the standards of coaching and Black excellence.