Althea Gibson


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



Emmett Till


Emmett Till (25 July 1941 – 28 Aug 1955)

Perhaps it was it because he was from Chicago. He lived in a fairly integrated neighbourhood, where he attended an integrated school. Perhaps he didn’t heed the warnings of his mother that Mississippi and Chicago were two very different places. Perhaps because he didn’t know any better; he was only 14 after all.

Emmett Till was 14 when he allegedly whistled at a White woman in Mississippi at a grocery store. As a result, he was taken from his great-uncles house by 3 men in the early hours of the morning, beaten, shot in the head and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. His unrecognisable body was found three days later. He was only 14.

At his funeral in Chicago was attended by tens of thousands of people, who filed past his open casket after his mother said, ‘There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. I just wanted the world to see’.
The act of showing the world, incensed not only Black, but White America, which showed the differing attitudes of the North and the South. The trail of the perpetrators (Bryant and Milam), lasted for 5 days and acquitted the two men, in spite of the fact that they admitted to taking Till and witnesses testified to having seen Milam enter a shed and hearing blows and screams. The jury later admitted that they thought the men were guilty, but didn’t feel as though life in prison or the death penalty was punishment befitting a crime; two Whites killing a Black man. But he wasn’t a man. He was 14 years old. Bryant and Milam confessed to killing Emmet in January 1956 but they never served time in jail, and both died of cancer in their 60’s.

 The story of Emmett had an effect on one Rosa Parks, as she refused to get off her seat and move to the back of the bus 4 months later. She said ‘I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back’.


Gabby Douglas


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.


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.