Althea Gibson

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Althea Gibson (25 Aug 1927 – 28 Sept 2003)

Althea Gibson came from humble beginnings on a cotton farm in South Carolina, but moved to Harlem in 1930 after the Great Depression hit the family hard. It was in Harlem where Gibson began her sporting career, becoming the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion at the age of 12. In 1941, she entered and won her first tournament and after losing in the women’s final in 1946, she won 10 straight ATA women’s titles from 1947-1957.

She became the first black player (male or female) to be selected to compete in the United States national Championships (now called the U.S. Open) and the age of 23. Even though se lost in the second round, the journalist Lester Rodney wrote

No Negro player, man or woman, has ever set foot on one of these courts. In many ways, it is even a tougher personal Jim Crow-busting assignment than was Jackie Robinson’s…

Her first international title was won in Jamaica, and later that year she broke another barrier when she became the first Black competitor at Wimbledon in 1951. In 1956, she became the first Black athlete to win a Grand Slam event (the French open) and won the doubles title at the same tournament. Her partner for that tournament was Anglea Buxton who became the first Jewish champion at Wimbledon.
The next year, in 1957, she became the first Black player to win at Wimbledon, and the first champion to receive the trophy personally from Queen Elizabeth II. She was received as Jesse Owens had been, by ticker tape parade, and was presented with a Bronze Medallion. In total, she won 56 national and international singles and doubles titles and 11 Grand Slams. She also became the first Black woman to appear on the covers of Time magazine and Sports Illustrated. She retired in late 1958.
After all of that, in 1959, she recorded an album of standards called Althea Gibson Sings and after not receiving many offers or invitations like some of her opponents whom she had resoundly beaten, she became the first Black woman to join the LPGA tour. As you do.

She was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, as well as 7 other Hall of Fame organisations. She was the first woman to receive the Theodore Roosevelt Award, and in 2013, the US Postal Service commemorated her with a stamp. When she began playing tennis, less than 5% of tennis newcomers were minorities. Now, nearly 10% of all tennis newcomers are African-American.

I have all the opportunities today because of people like Althea. Just trying to follow in her footsteps. – Venus Williams

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#Legacy

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Jim Brown

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Jim Brown (17th Feb 1939 – )

Jim Brown is best known for his 9 year stint playing Fullback for the Cleveland Browns, in which he set numerous records. In addition to being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, he was also elected to the Lacrosse and College Hall of Fame. His list of accolades is staggering, including being a 9x Pro Bowl selection, 4 time NFL MVP, and having his number #32 jersey retired by the Browns. Even though he retired in 1965, he still holds NFL and Cleveland Brown records, including never missing a game for his whole career. As Richard Pryor once said, ‘Now they got m***********s that get hurt in practice’. Richard Pryor often spoke about Jim Brown being one of the people who was there for him during his darkest days being addicted to drugs.

Brown appears in many movies including 100 Rifles alongside Burt Reynolds, which was one of the first films to feature an interracial love scene. He also appears in Mars Attacks!, Any Given Sunday, and The Dirty Dozen. He was also the subject of a movie by Spike Lee entitled Jim Brown: All-American.

Brown was on the of the first and most successful Black NFL stars but didn’t shy away from the issues of race in the 1960’s. He helped to develop the BEU (Black Economic Union) and organised a summit, held in 1964 of some of the top Black Athletes, promoters. He, along with Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, stood behind Muhammad Alis refusal to fight in Vietnam. Brown formed a strong bond between himself, Ali, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X during the 1960’s, before Malcolm and Cooke were assassinated and killed in suspicious circumstances respectively.

First row - Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul Jabbar

First row – Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul Jabbar

When watching Jim Browns game tape, you see a Black athlete, running through defensive lines with strength and purpose – a fitting metaphor for his strength and purpose during the African-American Civil Rights movement.

#strengthandpurpose

Gabby Douglas

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Gabby Douglas (31 Dec 1995 – )

Gabby Douglas made history a few years ago at the tender age of 16, as she won the team all-around gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and the first Black woman to win gold in the individual all-round category. She was also featured on the cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated Olympic Preview edition with her teammates (nicknamed the Fierce Five), which was the first time a gymnastics team had been featured on the front of the magazine. She also was featured on one of the 5 Time magazine Olympic edition covers. She has gone on to feature as part of an ad campaign for New Super Marios Bro.2, introduced Alicia Keys on stage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, and had the dubious honour of performing with Nicki Minaj at the same awards ceremony. She has also won 2 BET awards, and the Associated press Female Athlete of the Year 2012.

There was much debate about Gabbys hair after she won her gold medal by many who believed that her hair should have been more presentable. Martin Luther King Jrs famous speech didn’t include:

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character and whether or not their hair is on point’

It was so sad that Black people were spending so much time discussing this ‘issue’, and also interesting that White media was perpetuating these discussions by printing and devoting so much air time to Weave vs Natural hair debates.

Gabbys achievements no doubt gave hope to many young Black girls out there who could finally see a Black girl on top of the world, in a discipline which had been dominated by those who, chances are, didn’t care about Gabbys hair at all.

#muchadoaboutnothing

The Rooney Rule

The Black athlete has often times been the first to break colour lines, with the Brooklyn Dodgers starting Jackie Robinson on first base in 1947, to Jesse Owens’ feat in the 1938 Olympics in Munich. The physical prowess of the Black athlete has never been in question, but it took a long time for the Black intellect to be recognised in sport.

Dan Rooney & Mike Tomlin

Dan Rooney & Mike Tomlin

Rooney Rule – since 2003

The Rooney Rule was established in 2003 for the NFL, and states that teams must interview a minority candidate for a head coaching or senior footballing operations job. Even though Black athletes make up about 60% of the total athletes in the NFL, at the time of the Rooney Rule, there were only 2 Black head coaches (the NFL consists of 32 teams). In 2006, the overall percentage had jumped from 6% to 22%. Currently, it stands at 12.5% which compared favorably to the 12.4% of total African-Americans in the US. It could well be more, but as long as Black athletes keep beating their wives, kids and can’t stay Off the Weed, the sterotypes and prejudices will remain.

In England many people like Paul Ince and Chris Powell are calling for the Rooney Rule, as it seems that even though there are qualified coaches and managers with eperience, they aren’t being considered for the top jobs. Or maybe there aren’t so many potential Black managers out there. Many like Chris Kamara, Stan Collymore and Robbie Earl choosing to become TV personalities and pundits. Do they do that because they know their chances are slim? Or is the small number attributed to better oppurtunities?

Perhaps the implementation of the Rooney Rule can stop someone like John Terry getting a coaching job one day. God forbid.

#equality

Lewis Hamilton

article-2625562-1DBFB8BD00000578-730_634x523Lewis Hamilton (7 Jan 1985 – )

Although he was only a test driver, Willy Ribbs is credited as the first Black man to drive in F1 in 1986, but Lewis Hamilton holds the distinction of being the first to race in a season.

He started his racing career at the age of 8, after  his dad bought him his first go-kart at 6 years old. At the age of 10, he approached McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and told him that one day, he wanted to race for him. After winning his second British championship and Super One series, Dennis signed Hamilton in 1998, making hims the youngest driver to secure a contract which would result him racing in F1. After winning titles in the Bahrain Superprix and GP2, he was promoted to F1 and came second in the 2008 World Championship in his rookie season. He won the 2009 Championship in his second season and since then, his lowest finished in a Championship season has been 5th. After winning the first ever Sochi GrandPrix today, he is joint with Aryton Senna for 19 fastest laps, and tied with Nigel Mansell for the most wins for a British driver (31). With 3 races to go in the 2014 season, Hamilton can add to the records and success he has enjoyed in his career so far. He is also the fastest F1 driver on Top Gears’ Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.

Plus his girlfriend is FINE…

#gotitmade

Jesse Owens

jesse-owensJesse Owens (12 Sept 1913 – 31 March 1980)

For most track athletes competing in the Olympics, all they have to worry about is winning. Running, throwing or jumping better than they ever have in their lives to insure their places in the history books. Jesse Owens entered the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, not only with that on his mind, but with a myriad of racial and political implications at stake.
In the summer of 1935, Jesse Owens had broken 5 world records at a single meet, and with the Olympics the following year, many rightly regarded him as the favorite in multiple events. So you have the weight of expectation on your shoulders. Many athletes have to deal with that.
The complications arise when considering the fact that Owens, even as a star athlete in America, he was forced to ride in separate cars to athletics meets from his White teammates. America was happy for him to compete, but he was not treated as an equal even outside of day-to-day America. The dichotomy in American thought was striking, knowing the fact that the Amateur Athletic Union threatened to boycott the treatment of German Jews under Hitlers regime. The racist Nazi claims of Aryan superiority, angered Black people, and Owens seemingly needed to re-address the balance of thought after the German boxer Max Schmeling had beaten Joe Louis in early 1936.
In the space of less than an hour, Owens set 3 world records and tied another in the 100m, 200m, 400m relay and long jump. The long jump record stood for 25 years, and his haul of 4 track and field gold medals was only matched in 1980 by Carl Lewis.The brothers and Nazi supporters, Rudolph and Adolf Dassler, gave Owens the first sponsorship for an African-American athlete, which resulted in the boom of their sales, and the base for the formation of the now global brands, Puma and Adidas.

Hitler, disgusted and ashamed that Owens crushed the Aryan ideology, refused to shake Owens and the other Black athletes’ hands, which lead to further damning international press about Hitler. Even though Owens returned triumphantly to the America after the games, he still had to suffer the indignity of sitting at the back of the bus and entering through Black only doors. It didn’t seem to affect Owens much as he said:

I wasn’t invited up to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either.

Although Owens has gone down as one of the most successful athletes of all time, the context in which he did all of these things shouldn’t be underestimated. 29 Blacks were lynched in the years 1935-6. Blacks served their country during war but were still treated as lower than second class citizens. Owens helped to squash at the time, but its interesting that White supremacist ideology is maintained and sustained today, by assertions that Black athletes these days are what they are because of what we [Whites] did to them [the breeding of slaves], and not in spite of what we [Whites] did to them. Owens’ feat was achieved before Jackie Robinson broke colour lines in baseball in 1947, and before the NFL started to become big business and opened its doors to Black players in 1946.

#atruepioneer

Christophe Lemaitre… & yes he’s White!

We often see Black History Month as a time where we celebrate the people who have overcome odds to gain equality for Black people (i.e. activists like Claudette Colvin), firsts (i.e. Obama) or high achievers (artists, business people).
Perhaps sometimes its prudent to think about and celebrate those barriers which have not just been broken by Black people, but that have been set by Black people. To flip history on its head and acknowledge that when something that was extraordinary and awe-inspiring, ceases to be dominated or controlled by Black people, the fact that it was, is something important in itself. Take the ancient Empire of Mali for example.

The 10 second barrier was first broken in 1968 by Jim Hines, and has since been broken by 92 different athletes, some of which have done it multiple times. Out of all of these athletes, only one has been a White man.

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Christophe Lemaitre (9th July 2010 – 9.98 secs)

Of course, it was my goal to break it (the 10-second barrier). One has to run under 10 seconds in order to be part of the world’s best. I will be recognised as the first white man to do so, but today’s achievement is mainly about making history for myself!…It is not about the color (of one’s skin), it is about hard work.

Here’s the video.

Lemaitre proved to the rest of the world who may have given up hope since 1968, that it was possible. You’d have to go back to 2007 to find another White man in a World Championship 100m final let alone win it, or 1980 in an Olympic final, when British athlete Allen Wells won it. It must be noted that those Olympics were boycotted by nations like the US and Canada. As for running sub 10 seconds, 4 years later and Lemaitre remains the only White man to do it.
I was waiting for Lemaitre to tear off some Eddie Murphy esque make-up, and for a brother to be looking into the camera like:

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Plus, Lemaitres achievement, meant that theories about Black athletes being genetically superior could be somewhat dampened. While the idea of slave breeding being the cause behind so many dominant Black athletes may never truly go away, now other arguments can hold more weight. Socio-economics (its cheaper to run than to play golf) play a major role too.

At the end of the day, all Black history is, is the role that Black people have played in world history. Lemaitres achievement highlights the achievements of all of the other 91 Black athletes. It’s not really about Lemaitre; it’s about those brothers who showed the world how to run a sub 10 seconds for 42 years, and those who will continue to do so.

#whitemencanrun

The end of Tiki-taka??

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Going into the 2014 World Cup, Spain were amongst the favorites, being the current World and European Champions. The Spanish league is considered to be one of the strongest in the world, full of Spanish players coached by Spanish managers and the league receiving around €850 million a year. The 2014 Champions League final was an all Spanish affair, with Real Madrid beating their neighbours Athletico Madrid convincingly 4-1 in extra time. There were 9 goals scored in this years Semi Finals of the Champions League; 5 of which were scored by a Spaniard. In between the 2012 European Championships and this years competition, Diego Costa declared himself for Spain over Brazil, meaning that Spain added one of the most promising strikers in world football to its already talented attacking roster.

Even though Spain enjoyed this success, after just two games of the World Cup, Spain crashed out, having lost 5-1 to Holland and 2-0 to Chile. What went wrong?

Maybe the signs were already there. The style of football employed by Spain was not the same brand of football played by Real or Athletico Madrid. Spain as a whole was moving away from Tiki-Taka. The two most successful Spainsh teams this year, favoured a fast counter attacking style of football, well organised defense and pressing their opponents as soon as they got the ball. Even before this, Bayern Munich showed the world that Barcelona and Tiki-Taka could be beaten in the 2013 Champions League Semi Final. They won 7-0 on aggregate by pressing Barcelona and counter-attacking with explosive players like Ribery, Robben and Müller.

And then of course there is age. Xavi and Alonso came into this competition knowing that this may be their last international tournament. David Villa announced that this would be his last international tournament, and after his costly mistakes against Holland and Chile, Iker Casillas may have played his last game for not only Spain, but for Real Madrid too. The central defensive partnership of Pique and Ramos was shown up for what it was; two players who are very accomplished on the ball and a threat in the opposition box, but very poor in positional play. Although they are not yet 30, as their pace gradually leaves them, they will need to be able to read the game better, if their respective teams are unable to pass the ball at will and dominate possession.

A barely fit Diego Costa looked like he didn’t quite gel with the rest of his team. Having just declared for Spain and playing his club football at Athletico Madrid, he is not a product of Tiki-Taka football, and by playing him instead of Villa, Spain lost their proven ability through him to link their midfield with a presence in the box, who is willing to not only play with his towards the goal. In their 3-0 victory over Australia, Villa scored Spain’s first, and what was to be his final goal, no doubt leaving us all to speculate if Spain could have repeated World Cup success if he had started the first two games. Fernando Torres also scored but his future at Chelsea and for Spain looks to also be in doubt after disappointing since his £50million move to Chelsea in 2011. Players like David Silva, Iniesta and Juanfran will be in their 30’s by Euro 2016.

However, Spain have a host of talented youngsters waiting in the wings to take over. Players like De Gea, Tello, Isco, Koko, and Azpilicueta represent the next generation of Spanish football and are already playing at a high level at their respective clubs. Whether or not the can retain the European Championship in 2016 remains to be seen. They are developing in systems outside of the Tiki-Taka system, which is being mirrored by the signings of Spains top teams have been making. Barcelona have signed players like Neymar and Sanchez; players whos main strengths are running at their opponents, not passing around them in neat lines. Real Madrids trio of Ronaldo, Bale and Di Maria are unplayable at times. They possess pace, power, skill and vision to take on teams single-handedly at any given moment in a game.

Spains once solid unit has simply fallen apart. Adding Costa and the mistakes by Casillias, as well as other teams knowing how to play against Tiki-Taka, made obvious the fact that they started with no player who could carry a team on his back and take control of a game. In 2012, Spain played with a team the vast majority of whom came from Barcelona and Real Madrid. They knew each other inside out and played a team game which lead to comparisons with the Peles 70’s Brazil World Cup winning team. This year, with Athletic Madrid, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea ‘diluting’ their squad with different footballing styles, they needed someone to stand up and demand the ball. That is what Neymar is doing for Brazil. Robben for the Dutch. Messi for Argentina. Hazard for Belgium. They look for and demand the ball  because they know they don’t have a group of players who have been on the training pitch week after week with each other, who may not even like each other.

Spain proved over the last few years that there is no ‘I’ in team. So did Greece in Euro 2004. But now with Spain out, maybe like Ronaldo in World Cup 2006 or Zidane in 1998, someone will step up and show that although there is no ‘I’ in team, there definitely is an ‘I’ in win.

Oh England…

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So England are officially out of the 2014 World Cup. Lost their first two games in the World Cup for the first time since 1958. 2 goals scored, 4 conceded. So much was hoped for from Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley and the rest. Sisappointment is a gross understatement when it comes to describing England’s World Cup campaign.

By Costa Rica first beating Uruguay (albeit without Suarez) and now Italy, they look like a tactically sound and hungry team – like Chile but without any star names. They must be regarded as the surprise team of the World Cup so far. Although they won’t all of a sudden be tournament favorites, it will be interesting to see how they perform against England. The English media will look at Costa Rican squad, the manner of their performances and demand an English victory. Only a convincing win will do. Speaking of England…

It’s almost as though the two senior members of the team couldn’t handle the pressure. So much was made of Rooney being in his prime and ready to show the world he is a world class player, but he failed to deliver. He was guilty of missing a few clear cut chances against Italy and Uruguay, chances that players like van Persie, Müller and Suarez would surely score. Speaking of Suarez…

England knew all about him. He terrorized the Premier League this season, had keyhole surgery at the end of the season and still managed to score twice against a shaky England defense. He stepped up where PSG’s £50million rated striker Cavani couldn’t. Maybe Costa Rica wouldn’t have beaten Uruguay if Suarez had featured in that game. A player of that quality demands attention at all times. His first goal showcased his movement while his second goal showed his mental sharpness and clinical finishing after Gerrards mistake led to his second goal. He has probably added a few million pounds to the fee that Real Madrid or Barcelona are reported to be thinking of bidding. Speaking of Gerrard…

This tournament is probably the last time we will see Gerrard in an England shirt. His misjudgment of the header on thursday night and his slip against Chelsea at the end of the season, are more signs that he is no longer the player he used to be. It’s a shame that its ended like this but maybe Roy Hodgson felt pressured into playing Gerrard (and Rooney for that matter) for the sake of having more experience on the pitch. Maybe Wilshere would have made a bigger impact. Rickie Lambert was given a few minutes at the end of the Urugauy game, but maybe he coud have made a difference and been a bigger physical presence in both games.

England go into the game against Costa Rica knowing that only a win will be good enough. Pre-tournament, for England to lose 3 games in a row would be unthinkable, but now it is clearly a possibility. On a positive note, they could actually finish the World Cup with a better record (even if it is just on goal difference) than Spain. Speaking of Spain…

Football eh? Bloody Hell.

It's not all bad.. at least we can catch the start of Wimbeldon

“It’s not all bad.. at least we can catch the start of Wimbeldon”

On Africa and the World Cup

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One thing that has always caught my attention is how Africa and African football teams are spoken about at the World Cup. It seems as though the last African team left in the tournament somehow carries the hope of not only their nation, but the whole continent of Africa. Headlines such as ‘Ghana – Africa’s Best Hope in Tough World Cup Pool’ and ‘Why do African teams underperform at the World Cup?’ are common and go without questioning if the idea itself makes sense. The idea that African teams are spoken about in very different ways to teams from the rest of the world. Listen closely at how many times commentators and presenters will say things like ‘These players are not just representing their country, but also they are representing Africa’.

When Ghana were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup by Uruguay, it was seen as not only a triumph, but a possible glimpse into the future, as Ghana equalled the best result by an African team in World Cup history. Watching Luis Suarez’ handball and sending off, Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty miss and Abreu’s audacious chip to win it, was one of the most heartbreaking events in recent World Cup history. It endeared Ghana and in particular Asamoah Gyan, to hearts all over the world; not just African hearts.

In last nights BBC World Cup preview show, Reggie Yates spoke about the history of African sides at the World Cup and about the chances of Ghana escaping the group of death this year. He quoted the African saying ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. I’m sorry but on a continent where approximately 2000-3000 different languages are spoken, not to mention possibly 8000 dialects, the idea of the African proverb makes no sense. Africa is not a country. The proverb European or South American proverb makes no sense, so how can a proverb from Africa be acceptable? It just seems as though Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Algeria get lumped together when the need to explain how they perform and where they come from arises. Speaking of under-performing, do African teams really underperform?

If we go by appearances in the last 16 (that is countries that qualify from their group), we see that Africa is actually the 4th most successful continent over the last 6 World Cups. The 3rd most successful is North America, with 9 appearances in the knockout stages to Africa’s 5 (Asia has 4 while Oceania has 1). If we look at quarter-final appearances however, Africa beats North America 3 -1, with quarter-final appearances by Ghana (2010), Senegal (2002) and Cameroon (1990) to the one appearance by the USA in 2002. So in terms of progression in the tournament, African sides come in 3rd to Europe and South America. South Korea earned Asia’s only spot in the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup and Oceania’s furthest foray was in the last 16 with Australia in 2006. So do African teams really under achieve? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Did Germany carry the hopes of Europe when they reached the final of the 2006 World Cup? Do the defending champions Spain go into this years tournament being spoken of as Europe’s best hope of a World Cup? Much has been made of the socio-economic problems that Brazil has, and we have heard over and over again, that failure for Brazil to win the World Cup would be a disaster for its people. Would it be a disaster for the rest of the South American continent? Of course not. Perhaps many Argentinians would relish seeing Brazil knocked out before them. After all, Brazil represents Brazilians. Greece for Greeks. Iran for Iranians. Cameroon for…Africans? Sure many Africans will hope that other African side do well, but I’m sure an Ivorian would much prefer to see Ivory Coast progress rather than supporting the African nation with the best squad, out of a sense of ‘Africanism’??

If Nigeria reach the World Cup final against Brazil on the 13th July, many Africans will be cheering for Nigeria. Maybe, just maybe, there will also be some Africans watching the same game wearing Neymar Jr on their backs.