The incredible impact of black athletes worldwide is undeniable. The following famous black athletes have overcome overwhelming adversity in a society that did not always want them to participate and helped transcend their respective sports. In honor of Black History Month, here are ten black sports celebrities who have changed the game.
- Simone Biles
- Coco Gauff
- Michael Jordan
- Tiger Woods
- Usain Bolt
- Serena Williams
- Muhammed Ali
- Maritza Correia
- Walter Payton
- Hank Aaron
Simone Biles is the gymnast of all gymnasts. Her long list of accolades and accomplishments speaks for itself; she continues to break and define the odds of what it means to be a female gymnast.
She began gymnastics at only six years old during a field trip; she loved it and soon enrolled in a training programme. She started her elite career at fourteen years old in the 2011 American Classic in Houston; she performed reasonably well in all events and secured herself a spot on the 2012 USA Gymnastics National Championships. By 2013, Biles began her international career competing in the 2013 City of Jesolo Trophy, in which she won vault, balance beam, and floor exercise titles. At sixteen, she became the first African American to win the world all-around title, which she won again a year later.
In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Biles won four gold medals and one bronze; Biles set an American record for most gold medals in a single game of women’s gymnastics.
She has gone on to win countless World Championships, and she holds the record for the highest number of Olympic medals won by an American gymnast, with seven Olympic medals. Recently, at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Antwerp, after a two-year hiatus, Biles won four gold and one silver medal, making her the most decorated gymnast ever.
Biles is considered the greatest gymnast of all time.
Coco Gauff is on her way to becoming one of the best female tennis players in the world. She began playing tennis at only six and training at New Generation Tennis Academy at only eight years old. At ten years old, Gauff won the USTA Clay Court National 12-and-under title and became the youngest champion in tournament history.
In 2017, she made her junior Grand Slam debut and finished runner-up, making her the youngest girl singles finalist in U.S. Open history. She won her first junior Grand Slam a year later in France, not long after she became the No.1 Junior in the world.
She has beaten the likes of former Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in her Grand Slam singles debut.
In 2022, she was ranked world No. 4 in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association and world No. 1 in doubles. Gauff won five WTA single tournaments and only turned pro in 2018. In August, she won her first WTA 500 singles title, making her the first teenager to do so. Gauff has just won the U.S. Open final, following in the footsteps of her idol and icon Serena Williams.
To this day, Michael Jordan is considered a legend on and off the basketball court and is still one of the most well-known names in sports and amongst professional sports stars. He was one of the first athletes to develop a career in fashion – his brand ‘Jordan’ has only elevated a already very successful career.
Jordan’s basketball career started in high school. He struggled to join the team due to his height at first, so joined a junior variety team after a mini growth spurt. Still too determined to make the varsity roster, he trained hard and claimed his spot, averaging over 25 points per game. As a senior, he was selected to play in the 1981 basketball All-American game, where he scored 30 points. Post high school; several college basketball programs recruited him.
Jordan had a phenomenal college career and was named ACC Freshman Of The Year. He made a career-turning game-winning jump shot in the NCAA Championship game of 1982. Throughout his college career, he averaged 17.7 points per game.
He was selected twice to the NCAA All-American First Team and won the Wooden College Player of the Year award. He left North Carolina a year before his graduation to enter the 1984 NFL Draft. He also played in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and won a gold medal. He returned to college a year later.
Michael Jordan was named one of fifty of ACC’s greatest players in history in 2002.
Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls, leading them to three consecutive NBA Championship victories from 1991-93, he played in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and won a gold medal. After returning to the court after a brief retirement, he went on to win three more NBA championships before retiring again in ’99.
Jordan is still one of the most significant names in sports and, recently, Jordan has joined the Forbes 400 and is now worth $3 Billion.
Tiger Woods is considered one of the most successful and greatest golf players and sports celebrity ever. He is currently tied for first for PGA Tour wins and is ranked second in men’s major championships. Woods has played golf since he was a child; at two years old, he appeared on the Michael Douglas show, displaying his swing to the nation.
He collected many accolades during his career, ranked the top golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 consecutive weeks), then again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 consecutive weeks). During this time, he won thirteen major golf championships.
Golf has had its fair share of racist moments, but Woods has paved the way for greatness and inspired young black males to pursue their dreams.
He is widely considered the greatest golf player of all time and one of only a few sports stars to become a billionaire.
There have been hints circulating that Woods will be returning to golf.-who has not played competitively since he pulled out of the Masters
Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt truly lived up to his name. He is the world record holder in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4 × 100 meters relay, making him the fastest man in the world.
When it comes to athletes, Usain Bolt is possibly the first name that comes to mind. He is an eight-time Olympic gold medalist and is the only sprinter to win 100m and 200m Olympic titles at three consecutive Olympics, in 2008, 2012 and 2016. He rose to fame in the Beijing 2008 Olympics after he won gold in a landslide victory in the 100m and 200m for his country, Jamaica.
Additionally, Bolt is the most successful male athlete in the World Championship. He is an eleven-time World Champion, and he has won 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100 m relay gold medals for six consecutive years from 2009 to 2015, except for a 100m false start in 2011.
Furthermore, he is the first athlete to win four World Championship titles in the 200m and is one of the most accomplished in the 100m, with three titles, being the first person to run sub-9.7s and sub-9.6s.
He has broken several world records, including his own 100m record of 9.69, with 9.58 the biggest improvement since electronic timing began. On top of that, he has broken the 200m world record twice, firstly in 2008 with 19.30 and again in 2009 with 19.19; he has helped Jamaica to 4 x 100m relay world record three times.
His achievements continue as he was awarded the IAAF World Athlete of the Year, Track & Field Athlete of the Year, BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year (three times), and Laureus World Sportsman of the Year (four times). Bolt was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2016.
Bolt retired in 2017 but is still known as one of the greatest athletes ever.
Serena Williams is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She was trained from a young age by her parents, Oracene Price and Richard Williams, alongside her sister Venus Williams – both became tennis legends.
The long years of training paid off, as when she turned professional in 1995, she won her first major singles title in 1999 at the U.S. Open. Serena was a force to be reckoned with from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open, winning all four major single times, beating her sister Venus to the final each time – this meant she achieved the non-calendar year Grand Slam and the career Grand Slam, after she won the title was dubbed the ‘Serena Slam’. Over the next few years of her career, she went on to win two more major single tournaments. Unfortunately, due to an injury, this would cause Williams to decline in form. Injuries could not stop her as, at the beginning of 2007, she became a form of her old self and regained the No.1 singles ranking.
In 2012, she was back and better than ever, winning the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and a gold medal in the London Olympics, completing the career Golden Slam in singles. She achieved even further greatness, winning eight out of thirteen single majors and including all four consecutively from 2014 to 2015, completing a second ‘Serena Slam’. In 2007, she won her twenty-third significant singles title, breaking Steffi Graf’s record.
Muhammad Ali Is thought to be the greatest boxer of all time, as well as being exceptional at boxing; Ali was also known as an activist, author and poet. He is still regarded as one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century and considered the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.
Muhammad, nicknamed ‘The Greatest’, began boxing at the age of twelve and by the age of eighteen had already won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics and later that year went professional.
He won the heavyweight title after defeating Sonny Liston in 1964. After refusing to be drafted into the military due to his religious beliefs, he was stripped of all his titles. Although the conviction was overturned in 1971, he did not fight for almost four years, in which he lost some of his prime years as an athlete.
Ali fought in several iconic fights in his lifetime; he fought and won in 31 professional matches before losing his thirty second to Joe Frazier in the battle of the century,deemed the biggest boxing event up until that point.he fight was rematched twice, Ali winning both matches. He went on to fight many other greats, such as George Foreman and Jimmy Young.
He was famous for trash-talking and became an eternal icon for his poetic catchphrases like ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’.
After becoming the three-time heavyweight champion–making him the first heavyweight champ to do so, Ali decided to leave boxing and retire, but that was short-lived as he came back to fight Larry Holmes for the chance to win the heavyweight championship for an unprecedented fourth time.
Maritza truly paved the way when it came to diversity in swimming. She was the first black American swimmer to set an American and world swimming record; on top of that, she was the first black female swimmer to join the U.S. team.
Correia’s swimming journey started out challenging. Her doctor first diagnosed her with scoliosis ( a condition where the spine twists and curves to the side) at seven years old and recommended swimming as part of her treatment and therapy program. Corrie developed a strong passion and love for the sport.
Correia’s family moved from Puerto Rico to Tampa, Florida, in her teenage years. Correia joined the high school swimming team. At eighteen, she became the 50-meter freestyle U.S. national champion in the 18-and-under category. She was also a six-time Florida high school state champion in five events.
Correia hoped to participate in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney but unfortunately did not make the team. However, this did not stop Maritza. At the World Championships in 2002, she took home a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle and two bronze medals in the medley. In 2001, she won bronze as a member of the U.S. team for the 400-meter freestyle relay for the World Championships in Japan.
She took home two more gold medals for 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle in 2002 at the National Championships; she was also a member of two winning relay teams at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas. Correia made history by setting the NCAA American and U.S. Open records with a time of 21.69 in the 50-yard freestyle. She was awarded seven All-American certificates and the Commissioner’s Cup as the highest point scorer in the SEC Championships.
At the 2003 World Aquatics Championships, Correia earned another gold medal swimming in the preliminary heat in Barcelona’s 4×100 meter freestyle relay.
In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, she and her team came second in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay, making Correia the first African-American swimmer to win an Olympic medal for the United States.
She became a pioneer for minorities in swimming and paved the way for other black swimmers, such as Cullen Jones, Simone Manuel and Lia Neal, to be on the Olympic team; she said that she “want[ed] to inspire other minorities to get involved with swimming and love it as much as I do… I’m proud to be the first, but I don’t want to be the last.”
Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton played 13 seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears as a running back. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time.
Payton’s career started as a junior in high school- at first, he was sceptical of joining the football team due to his brother being a part of it and not wanting to compete with him and his commitments to the marching band, but the coach convinced him after his brother left.
He was a complete natural and gained instant success; he ran 65 yards for a touchdown on his first high school carry. Payton was not very tall, but his speed and strength made him one of the best on the team. Payton scored in every game of his junior and senior years and was an asset to the team. Additionally, he played for Columbia’s basketball team and continued to drum in the school band.
Payton established himself as one of the best Mississippi running back prospects; however, he did not receive any Southeastern Conference colleges. After some consideration, Payton decided to pursue his collegiate career at Jackson State, where his older brother went.
Payton went on to have a very successful college career. By his third year, he had accumulated 24 rushing touchdowns and was named Black College Player of the Year, subsequently going on to win this award again a year later. Additionally, he was selected for the All-American Team. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in communications and an impressive football record of 3,600 rushing yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and a new school record of 65 rushing touchdowns.
Walter Payton was inducted into the College Football Hall Of Fame in 1996 and was posthumously inducted into the inaugural class of Black College Football Hall Of Fame in 2010.
He was drafted in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears as the fourth overall pick. The first year of his NFL career was unsuccessful, finishing the season with only 679 yards and seven touchdowns. In his NFL sophomore season, Payton was determined to change his performance, rushing for 1,390 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. After the season, he was selected to play in the 1977 Pro Bowl and was declared the Pro Bowl- Most Valuable Player. In the following season, he rushed for 1,852 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, becoming the league’s leading scorer for the season. He received many awards for the season, including the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America’s MVPs.
He broke O.J. Simpson’s record in 1977 in a game against the Minnesota Vikings-rushing 276 yards; his record stood for another twenty-three years. Payton won one Super Bowl Championship and rushed for 16,726 yards throughout his career- which broke the record for most rushing yards by any NFL player in history.
Additionally, he scored 110 touchdowns. He set numerous team records, including most career rushing yards, receptions, touchdowns, and touchdown passes by a running back. At the end of his career, his jersey number was retired, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 1993.
Hank ‘Hammer’ Aaron was a professional baseball player- he played in the MLB for twenty-three seasons and is considered one of the greatest baseball players ever.
Aaron developed a love for baseball at a very young age- making makeshift baseball equipment from materials he found and hitting bottle caps. As his high school did not have a baseball team, he played for a semi-pro team outside of school; by the time he was fifteen, Aaron had established himself as a power hitter and had his first tryout for the MLB team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, but did not make the team. He returned to school and played for two negro league teams. He began playing for the Indianapolis Clowns; during his time with the Clowns, Aaron said he experienced a lot of racism, including one stand-out moment- in which he stated
“We had breakfast while we were waiting for the rain to stop, and I can still envision sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating. What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”
However, due to his stand-out performance, he received offers from two MLB teams, the New York Giants and the other from the Boston Braves. His first season with the Braves was very successful- he had adopted a hard-hitting standard technique instead of cross-handed, and by the end of the season, he was voted unanimously by the league for Rookie Of The Year. His second season with the Braves was just as successful as the first, if not more, and he led the league with 115 runs and 208 hits and won the league’s MVP award. He faced many racism challenges during his time at the Bears, often being treated very differently from his teammates; he was one of the first African Americans to play in the league.
Aaron had a very successful career; he holds the MLB records for the most career runs batted in RBIs with 2,297, 1,477 with extra-base hits, and 6,856 total base hits. Aaron also holds the record for third all-time for career hits 3,771. He is one of only a few players with at least 17 seasons with 150 or more hits. In 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
These talented sports stars have had a meteoric impact on their respective industries. They’ve also made waves in the world of sports bookmaking as a result of their exploits.