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Sports

Black pioneers in sports history

Look back at some of the notable black pioneers in sports history, including baseball, the Olympics, basketball, college basketball, boxing, golf, tennis, football, college football, hockey and wrestling.

Jackie Robinson, baseball

Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947
Photo Credit: AP

Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947 as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also the first black MVP, winning the award in 1949, and the first African-American Hall of Famer, inducted in 1962. His number is now retired throughout Major League Baseball.

Larry Doby, baseball

Shortly after Jackie Robinson, Doby was signed by
Photo Credit: AP

Shortly after Jackie Robinson, Doby was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1947 as the first black player in the American League. He was a seven-time All-Star.

Don Newcombe, baseball

Newcombe was the first black baseball player to
Photo Credit: AP

Newcombe was the first black baseball player to win the Cy Young, winning the award its first year in 1956. He was named MVP the same season.

Willie Mays, baseball

Mays was the first black player to win
Photo Credit: AP

Mays was the first black player to win the Gold Glove Award, taking his first of 12 consecutive in 1957.

Buck O'Neil, baseball

A former star in the Negro American League,
Photo Credit: AP

A former star in the Negro American League, O'Neil became MLB's first black coach in 1962 for the Cubs.

Elston Howard, baseball

Howard, a catcher for the Yankees, batted .287
Photo Credit: AP

Howard, a catcher for the Yankees, batted .287 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 1963 and won the American League MVP, that league's first for a black baseball player.

Satchel Paige, baseball

Paige was the first black pitcher to be
Photo Credit: AP

Paige was the first black pitcher to be enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. At his acceptance, he said that in the Negro Leagues, "there were many Satchels and many Joshes," referring to Josh Gibson.

Frank Robinson, baseball

On April 8, 1974, Frank Robinson managed his
Photo Credit: AP

On April 8, 1974, Frank Robinson managed his first game with the Indians, becoming the first black major league manager.

Bob Watson, baseball

Watson, the Yankees general manager in 1996, became
Photo Credit: Newsday/Paul Bereswill

Watson, the Yankees general manager in 1996, became the first black GM to win a World Series.

George Poage, track and field

In the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis,
Photo Credit: Wisconsin Athletic Communications

In the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, Poage became the first black athlete to participate in the Olympics, and the first to medal. He won bronze in the 440 meter hurdles.

John Baxter Taylor, track and field

Taylor became the first black athlete to represent
Photo Credit: University of Pennsylvania Archive

Taylor became the first black athlete to represent the United States in the Olympics in the 1908 London Games. During the same games, he became the first black athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics as a member of the 1600-meter medley relay team.

DeHart Hubbard, track and field

In the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, Hubbard
Photo Credit: Michigan Athletic Communications

In the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, Hubbard became the first black American athlete to win an individual gold medal. He took first in the long jump.

Vonetta Flowers, bobsledding

Flowers, left, is the first African-American to win
Photo Credit: AP

Flowers, left, is the first African-American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. She won it in bobsledding at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Shani Davis, speed skating

In 2006, Davis won gold at the Olympics
Photo Credit: Getty Images

In 2006, Davis won gold at the Olympics in the 1,000 meter speed skating event. He was the first black athlete for Team USA to win an individual gold in the Winter Olympics. Davis defended his title in 2010.

Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper and Nat Clifton, basketball

Together, Cooper, Clifton (pictured) and Lloyd broke the
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Together, Cooper, Clifton (pictured) and Lloyd broke the NBA's color line. Cooper was the first black player drafted, taken by Boston; Clifton was the first to sign an NBA contract, with the Knicks; and Lloyd was the first to appear in a game, with the Capitols.

Wayne Embry, basketball

Embry became the first black NBA general manager
Photo Credit: AP

Embry became the first black NBA general manager in 1972 with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Bill Russell, basketball

Russell was the first black coach in the
Photo Credit: AP

Russell was the first black coach in the NBA in 1966, and the first black coach to win an NBA title in 1968. Later, in 1975, he was the first black basketball player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Robert L. Johnson, basketball

In 2003, the creator of Black Entertainment Television
Photo Credit: AP

In 2003, the creator of Black Entertainment Television paid $300 million for majority ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats, making him the first black majority owner of a professional sports team.

Joe Dumars, basketball

Dumars became the first black GM in the
Photo Credit: AP

Dumars became the first black GM in the NBA to win a championship with the Pistons in 2004. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.

Will Robinson, college basketball

In 1970, Robinson became the first black coach
Photo Credit: AP

In 1970, Robinson became the first black coach at a Division I school when he was hired by the Illinois State University men's basketball team.

Texas Western, college basketball

In 1966, Don Haskins' Texas Western men's basketball
Photo Credit: AP

In 1966, Don Haskins' Texas Western men's basketball team was the first all-black starting lineup in the National Championship game. The Miners beat Kentucky, 72-65.

Jack Johnson, boxing

Photo Credit: AP

"The Galveston Giant" knocked out Tommy Burns in 1908 to become the first black heavyweight champ. He lost the title in 1915 in the 26th round of a 45-round fight. Johnson finished his career 79-8 with 46 wins by knockout.

Charlie Sifford, golf

Sifford became the first black player to earn
Photo Credit: AP

Sifford became the first black player to earn a PGA Tour card in 1961. He won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open Invitational, the first Tour event won by a black golfer.

Lee Elder, golf

In 1975, Elder became the first black golfer
Photo Credit: AP

In 1975, Elder became the first black golfer to play in the Masters. He missed the cut, but went on to win four times on the PGA Tour and eight times on the Champions Tour.

Tiger Woods, golf

Woods was the first black golfer to take
Photo Credit: AP

Woods was the first black golfer to take home the U.S. Amateur, in 1994, then became the first black major golf champion, winning the 1997 Masters.

Althea Gibson, tennis

In 1956, Gibson became the first black tennis
Photo Credit: Getty Images

In 1956, Gibson became the first black tennis player to win a grand slam, taking the doubles title at Wimbledon.

Arthur Ashe, tennis

Ashe became the first black man to win
Photo Credit: AP

Ashe became the first black man to win a grand slam event, winning the U.S. Open in 1968. In 1975, he became the first black man to win Wimbledon.

Fritz Pollard, football

Pollard (pictured) and Bobby Marshall were the first
Photo Credit: AP

Pollard (pictured) and Bobby Marshall were the first two black players to play in the NFL in 1920, Pollard with the Akron Pros and Marshall with the Rock Island Independents. A year later, Pollard became co-head coach of the Pros, the first black coach in league history.

Willie Thrower, football

On Oct. 18, 1953, Thrower became the first
Photo Credit: AP

On Oct. 18, 1953, Thrower became the first black quarterback to appear in an NFL game. Bears coach George Halas replaced George Blanda with him midway through a game. Thrower appeared in one more game in his NFL career.

Marlin Briscoe, football

Briscoe was the first black quarterback to start
Photo Credit: AP

Briscoe was the first black quarterback to start a game in the modern era for the Denver Broncos in 1968. He was converted to receiver with the Buffalo Bills the next season and became a Pro Bowler.

Franco Harris, football

Harris rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown
Photo Credit: AP

Harris rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown at Super Boxl IX in 1975, and was the first black player to be named the game's MVP.

Doug Williams, football

With the Redskins in 1988, Williams became the
Photo Credit: NFL

With the Redskins in 1988, Williams became the first black quarterback to both start in and win a Super Bowl.

Art Shell, football

Shell became the first black NFL head coach
Photo Credit: AP

Shell became the first black NFL head coach in the modern era when he was hired by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989.

Ozzie Newsome, football

Newsome became the first black general manager in
Photo Credit: AP

Newsome became the first black general manager in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens in 2002.

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, football

Dungy and Smith were the first black coaches
Photo Credit: AP

Dungy and Smith were the first black coaches to reach the Super Bowl in 2007. The Colts beat the Bears, making Dungy the first black coach to win the Super Bowl.

Jerry Reese, football

Reese, the general manager of the New York
Photo Credit: Newsday/David Pokress

Reese, the general manager of the New York Giants from 2007-2017, became the first black GM to win a Super Bowl when the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

Duke Slater, college football

In 1951, its inaugural year, Slater was the
Photo Credit: Iowa Athletic Communications

In 1951, its inaugural year, Slater was the first black player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He played tackle for Iowa from 1918-1921.

Ernie Davis, college football

Davis, a Syracuse running back, was the first
Photo Credit: AP

Davis, a Syracuse running back, was the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. He was drafted into the NFL, but was diagnosed with leukemia and died at 23.

Willie Jeffries, college football

Jeffries was the first black coach in Division
Photo Credit: AP

Jeffries was the first black coach in Division I-A college football when he took over at Wichita State University in 1979. In 2002, he was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in Indianapolis at the Black Coaches Association (BCA) Convention Awards Banquet.

Willie O'Ree, hockey

In 1958, Willie O'Ree made his debut with
Photo Credit: AP

In 1958, Willie O'Ree made his debut with the Bruins as the first black player in the NHL.

Ron Simmons, wrestling

A former NFL player, Simmons started wrestling in
Photo Credit: AP

A former NFL player, Simmons started wrestling in 1989, and in 1992, became the first black WCW World Heavyweight Champion. He later wrestled in ECW, WWF and WWE promotions.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, wrestling

Photo Credit: AP

"The Rock" was the first black WWE Champion. He's an eight-time champion and is also a movie star.

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