African-American Athletes Before Jackie Robinson

Luka Ardon, Reporter

 Most Americans know the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the MLB. But what about the first two African American men who were in the NFL? Or the first African American boxing champion?

 There are so many African American sport icons who aren’t known to the general population. 

Through all of that and more, they still climbed to the top of their sport. The perfect example of this is Joe Gans who had to compete at a lower weight than others. He fought his way to the top becoming the first ever African American boxing champion in 1902. 

Gans while boxing inspired many African Americans one being Muhammad Ali who many consider the greatest boxer of all time. Two other African American athletes who broke the color in sports were Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall in the NFL. 

Before 1920 there wasn’t a single person of color in the NFL. Now as of last year, 70 percent of players in the NFL are people of color. It was these brave men who took the first step. Pollard later became the first African American head coach in the NFL. 

Yet, Pollard isn’t a known name. He’s a man who gets some recognition but still deserves so much more. 

Another athlete was a man who was brave enough to represent and run for the US in Nazi Germany. Jesse Owens at the time was the fastest man on the planet. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 

He was the first American to win four gold medals for track and field at a single Olympics. 

Owens broke records in a country that was ran by Nazi, people who believed he wasn’t equal to white people. 

Owens proved not only that he was equal but in four different events that he was the best in the world. 

Owens, in the Long Jump event, literally rose the American flag above a flag that is still a representation of hate and racism when Owens won gold and a German man won silver. 24 years later Wilma Rudolph paved the road for African American women in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

 Rudolph won three gold medals becoming the first American women to do so. Even before Rudolph there was Alice Coachman who was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. 

She won it in the high jump in the 1948 London Olympics. These pioneers should never be forgotten. 

Even though they faced racism, hatred, and death threats these brave men and women risked it all for the sport that they loved. 

“It is essential for all people of color to know and understand that the color of your skin shouldn’t be a restriction to what you can or cannot do in life,” senior Ava McCoy said.