Highlighting some of America’s greatest black athletes

Staff+writer+William+Ketner+examines+the+legacies+of+three+of+America%27s+greatest+athletes.

William Ketner

Staff writer William Ketner examines the legacies of three of America’s greatest athletes.

Whether it is putting a ball in the hoop, spiking a tennis ball past opponents, crushing a baseball over into the stands, or throwing punches in the ring, thousands of African-Americans have tried their hand at being professional athletes. To celebrate Black History Month, here are the 3 most influential African-Americans to ever do it.

 

Jackie Robinson is, by far, the most influential African-American baseball player of all time. On April 15th, 1947, he became the first African-American to play in the modern-era major leagues. That day, he suited up to play first base for the only team he ever played for, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The stats and accolades Robinson captured in his career are truly astounding. During his 10 year career in the MLB, Robinson racked up 6 All-Star game appearances from 1949 to 1954, a National League Rookie of the Year in 1947, a National League MVP in 1949, a National League Batting Champion in 1949, was a 2 time stolen base leader in 1947 and 1949, and a World Series championship in 1955.

Robinson’s stats consisted of a batting average of .311, an on-base percentage of .409, and 197 stolen bases. These stats are an indicator of how skilled Robinson was at getting on bases and around them. Robinson also posted a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 61.7 in his career. This comes out to 6.17 per year. An All-Star will usually get about WAR of 5. That was just how good Robinson was.

After Robinson retired, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1962. He also had his number 42 retired by the Dodgers. However, to truly show how much of an icon he was, in 1997, the MLB retired his number 42 across the entirety of the league. To this day, he remains the only MLB player to have his number retired league wide. He is 1 of 2 to have it in the 4 major sports with the other being number 99, worn by Wayne Gretzky in the NHL.

Lastly, in one final homage to a legend of baseball, in 2004 the MLB declared April 15th Jackie Robinson day. On this day, all players wear the number 42 on their jersey as a tribute to Robinson. This is the only time 42 will ever be worn again in the MLB.

 

Serena Williams is one of, if not, the best women’s tennis player ever. She has broken records and put up some truly remarkable stats in major tournaments and the Olympics. It is through this platform that she has gained her influence.

During her prime, the way Williams was able to defeat her opponents with her incredibly powerful serves. During the 2013 Australia Open, she recorded a serve of 128.6 mph; the 3rd fastest to ever be recorded at a tournament.

During the 4 Grand Slam tournaments that consist of the US Open, Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon, the players play on 3 different types of courts; hard courts in the US and Australian Opens, clay in the French Open, and grass during Wimbledon. Williams holds the record for 13 titles won on a hard court; 7 in the Australian Open and 6 in the US Open. These are both either first or tied for first in the Open Era rankings. The Open Era dates back to 1968.

Williams also holds the record for most wins in a Grand Slam tournament singles, doubles, or mixed doubles among active players at 39. This is 3rd on the Open Era list. She is also only the 3rd player to hold all 4 titles in singles at once 2 separate times.

She also captured 4 gold medals at the Olympics with 3 coming in doubles during the 2000, 2008, and 2012 Olympic games with her sister, Venus Williams, and one in singles during the 2012 Olympic games.

However, one of her championships stands above the rest in terms of difficulty. In January of 2017, Williams won the Australian Open while carrying a baby. She had found out just before the tournament and instead of backing out like many would, she fought and persevered to win the whole thing, while carrying her child.

As far as rankings, William held the number 1 position 8 times for a combined 319 weeks, which is 3rd in the Open Era. The 6th time she held number 1, she was in that position for 186 weeks straight, which comes out to a little over 3.5 years. This is tied for the Open Era record.

Through all of these achievements Williams has gained an extreme amount of popularity and has become a role model for many young boys and girls.

 

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

This is the most famous quote from arguably the best boxer to ever grace the earth, Muhammad Ali. Ali was born as Cassius Clay, and later switched his name after he switched religions.

Inside the ring, Ali was obviously able to accomplish things that all of us would dream for. A 56-5 record with 37 knockouts, an Olympic gold medal at the age of 18, and a world heavyweight championship in 1964 at age 22.

Although Ali was a great boxer, most of his influence has come from outside the ring.

Religion became a big part of his life, and caused him to change his name completely. Also, he was drafted into the Vietnam War and refused to go. He cited his religious beliefs and ethical opposition to the war. He was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to 5 years in prison as well as having his boxing title stripped. Although, 4 years later, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction.

Ali also has been an advocate in the realm of Parkinson’s disease. He developed the Muhammad Ali Center in order to provide children with the disease a better life.

Ali also became an accomplished actor and musician, where he earned 2 Grammy nominations.

In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ali lit the torch. This was a surprise to everyone considering that it was not announced who would do the honors. Ali was greeted by an enormous ovation from the crowd..

Overall, Ali has developed influence not only inside, but outside, the ring.

Athletes have one of the biggest platforms on the planet, and these three used, or are using, this platform for good. They inspire others, server as role models for others, and make others want to be better. This is why they gained so much influence. This is what being an athlete is about.