Usain Bolt

Top 10 Black Athletes Who Changed the Game Forever

Discover the legendary black athletes who revolutionized sports and society. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and others who broke barriers and made history.


Feb. 19 2024, Published 12:00 p.m. ET

Opinions on top Black athletes who have changed the game forever vary as new athletes emerge daily. Even so, these 10 Black athletes have made a significant impact worth noting. Black athletes play a crucial role in modern sports, infusing them with extraordinary talent and reshaping game strategies with their prowess. NMAAHC noted that "Within Black communities, sports have always been political. From the refusal to allow African Americans an opportunity to compete to the formation of African American segregated sporting teams and leagues; from the hard-won battles to compete at the highest levels of the game to the introduction of African American expressive cultural practices within the games, the African American presence in sports has had social and political consequences." The success of modern Black athletes was born on the shoulders of those who came before them and those who fought for inclusivity and to have their voices heard and their talents appreciated.

They serve as vital symbols of diversity, encouraging broader participation and stimulating important societal dialogues about inclusiveness and racial equity. Their influence extends far beyond their athletic achievements. Here we are going to look at ten game-changing Black Athletes who continue to inspire new generations of athletes today!

1. Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson is the famed baseball player who broke the color barrier after joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947. His contributions go far beyond being the first Black athlete to play Major League Baseball and appearing on the field for the National League Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves.

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2. Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is an all-time boxing favorite known as "The Greatest." Ali dominated the boxing world and became a symbol of resistance and activism during the civil rights movement. His story of morality and unwavering commitment to his beliefs will continue to keep him in the history books.

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3. Jesse Owens

The American track-and-field athlete is remembered for his spectacular performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Owens won four gold medals, challenging Hitler's Aryan supremacy myth and making a statement against racism, a stand that still has influence even today, unfortunately.

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4. Serena Williams

The American-born tennis player revolutionized the male-dominated sport for women. Having won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, Serena is one Black athlete to be celebrated. She has broken records and barriers, paving the way for Black athletes in a predominantly ‘rich and white sport.’

5. Michael Jordan

The global basketball icon has made a significant impact beyond the court with his successful brand and ownership role in the Charlotte Hornets. He led his basketball team, the Chicago Bulls, to six National Basketball Association (NBA) championships and was named the MVP in the NBA five times.

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6. Wilma Rudolph

Overcoming childhood polio, Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during the 1960 Olympics. She was also the first Black woman to win gold medals in the Olympics, an area primarily dominated by men.

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7. Althea Gibson

Breaking racial barriers in tennis and golf, Gibson was the first Black athlete to win a Grand Slam title. Her unshaken dedication made her a force to be reckoned with. This is why she also won the Singles Crown during the 1957 French Championship, paving the way for future Black athletes in these sports.

8. Usain Bolt

Dubbed the fastest man in the world, Bolt's dominance in sprinting has left an indelible mark on track and field. The Jamaican-born athlete has won gold medals in 100-meter and 200-meter races in three Olympic Games, in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

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9. Tommie Smith

The American-born sprinter is remembered for making the world record for a 200-meter sprint in the 1968 Olympic Games. He broke the 20-second mark, sprinting in 19.83 seconds, the first time an athlete covered the distance in less than 20 seconds.

10. Arthur Ashe

The first Black man to win a Grand Slam title, Ashe, was a tennis champion and an influential advocate for civil rights. He was also very outspoken about raising HIV awareness. His career left an indelible mark, winning 33 titles, including the 1975 Wimbledon, the 1970 Australian Open, and the 1968 US Open.

Black Athletes - Changing the Game Now and Forever

The above Black athletes have excelled in their respective sports and played pivotal roles in challenging societal norms and promoting equality. Their impact extends far beyond the game, inspiring generations to come. Black athletes continue to transport the sports industries they are in with their exceptional skill, activism, and cultural impact.

They are breaking barriers, setting new records, and using their platforms to advocate for causes they care deeply about. From social justice, fostering inclusivity, and inspiring the next generation, these Black athletes and many more like them continue to challenge the status quo both on and off the field,

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