This column first appeared in the Friday, February 23rd issue of The Daily Dispatch.
February is a time to reflect on those figures in black history who fought, bled and pressed through the uncivil practices of the United States so that black people could gain their basic Civil Rights.
People such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Emmett Till have all impacted the larger scale for equality for African-Americans. But this reflection is going to be about those people who impacted society in the smaller arenas.
The sports arena.
In 1890, Isaac Murphy narrowly defeated Snapper Garrison in a horse race in Coney Island to not only cement his claim as being the greatest jockey of his time but also becoming one of the highest paid athletes in the country; a claim that was unfathomable for blacks during the time.
With a few swings of his fist, a Galveston, Texas native epitomized what it meant to be champion, while society used him to exemplify what it meant to be black.
Living off the highs of being “The Man” Johnson bought fast cars, expensive clothes and began dating white women. Then America created a law just for him, the Mann Act which prohibited the intrastate transportation of women for the purpose of prostitution.
Johnson was later imprisoned which proved there is no black man, not even the champ, above America.
Arthur Foster, known to the sports world as Rube, founded the Negro National League in 1920 making him the first black to own his own league.
The NNL would spawn into the Negro Leagues that produced players such as Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson.
Carl Lewis may have more Olympic medals than Jesse Owens but Owens, to me, is the greatest Olympian of all time.
Owens won the 100-meters, long jump, 200 and anchored the U.S. to the 400-meter relay title during the 1936 Berlin Games.
Owen’s feat against Nazi Germany was the true symbol of the black struggle, how one race can overcome a whole country when it’s against you.
I salute Robinson for being the first in 1947.
I salute Wilma Rudolph for overcoming polio to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics.
I salute Muhammad Ali for telling Uncle Sam ‘no’ in 1967.
I salute both Tommie Smith and John Carlos for making the rest of the world aware of our plight with their raised fists in the 1968 Olympics.
I salute all these athletes for rewriting sports history, for being black history.