To commemorate Black history month here in North America, The Medium’s Sports section will be listing some of the most dominant and influential Black athletes of the past two decades.
To kick things off, Usain Bolt of Sherwood Content Jamaica has been the most commanding force in short distance running—not only in the past twenty years but arguably of all time. Bolt is a world record holder for three separate events (100 metres, 200 metres and 4 x 100 metres relay). But extending beyond the world of sport, Usain Bolt has also created the Usain Bolt Foundation dedicated to “create opportunities through education and cultural development. Investing millions of dollars into community development projects that enhance the health and education of the young people involved.”
Most recently, his foundation contributed just under three million in support of rural areas facing the challenges of online learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Next amongst our mentions is tennis superstar Serena Williams. Winning her first Grand Slam title in 1999, Serena Williams went on to win 22 more during the 2000s and is still currently sitting within the top 15 players on the WTA tour at the age of 39. While certainly a fighter on the tennis court, she also fights a bigger battle against inequality. She told CNN that the day she stops fighting for equality will be the day she’s in her grave.
One athlete Williams has inspired is Naomi Osaka, who has said that she dreamed to play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam. Osaka showcased her support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 by wearing a different black mask into every one of her matches at the U.S. Open on her way to the championship. Each mask had the name of one of several African Americans who have been killed by police in the U.S. She also withdrew from the Cincinnati Open before officials chose to support her cause by postponing the event for a day amidst the police shooting and killing of Jacob Blake and George Floyd.
Sadio Mane and Marcus Rashford
Moving onto the world of soccer, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford have had a huge impact on society in recent years. Sadio Mane, while winning the UEFA Champions League in 2019 and winning the Premier League title in 2020, has also funded a hospital and built a school in his home village in Senegal. In the province, the World Bank estimates that 70 per cent of families live in poverty. Mane stated that he wanted to build this hospital and school to give people hope.
Similarly, Marcus Rashford has been working hard on issues in the United Kingdom. Growing up in poverty himself, the 23-year-old Manchester star helped to ensure free school meals were provided to children outside of the school year. He also called on the British government to increase the value of food vouchers for struggling families.
The final name we’ll mention is possibly the biggest: LeBron James. Accumulating four NBA championships and four Most Valuable Player awards, LeBron James has dominated basketball over this past decade. However, as a young adult entering the NBA right out of high school in 2003, the expectations for greatness had already begun. Amidst all the criticism and ridicule, James has done a lot of good outside of his sport. The LeBron James Family Foundation helped open a school, housing complex, and community center in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. His mission was to create generational change.
Beyond his foundation, James acts almost as an ambassador for NBA players when there are issues at hand. In 2018, Fox News told LeBron to “shut up and dribble” when he voiced his opinion on racial inequality, police shootings, and the President’s response to the injustices at the time. James responded by saying he will not shut up because of what he means to the youth that look up to him.As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s important that we acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments, the contributions, and the impact of these athletes. In a time when representation is key, these superstars have established themselves in and out of their respective sports as role models for young Black people around the world.