As Black History Month ends this weekend (and with Women’s History Month starting Sunday), it is only appropriate that we spotlight the Black women who have made an impact in sports.
While opportunities have been limited until the end of the 20th century, Black women have always made strides despite fighting the double veil of race and gender. It is their struggle and accomplishments that we celebrate as women’s sports continue to fight for acceptance.
Cheryl Miller – Arguably the greatest women’s basketball player of all time, there’s no room to list all of her accomplishments (four-time HS and college All-American, 105 points in a HS game, three-time College Player of the Year, gold medalist).
Sports Illustrated famously had her on their cover as the best basketball player in the country – male or female – in 1985 and she’s continuing to blaze a trail as a sideline NBA reporter for TNT.
Wilma Rudolph – Inspired by Jesse Owens’ performance in the 1936 Summer Olympics, the Tennessee native who conquered polio as a child went on to win three gold medals at the 1960 Summer Games in Rome.
Her victories earned her the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year twice (1960-61) as she became the first female track athlete to garner national and international acclaim.
Althea Gibson – The “Jackie Robinson” of tennis had a three-year window (1956-58) where she was not just the first Black tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament (1956 French Open), but was arguably the best tennis player in the world, reaching No. 1 in 1957 and 1958.
Her final career numbers: 11 Grand Slam singles and doubles titles. She also became the first Black woman to play on the LPGA tour in 1964.
Alice Coachman – The first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal (1948 – high jump) was also the only American woman to win gold that year. The win came on the heels of a nine-year run dominating the AAU high jump championships.
Debi Thomas – Thomas became the first Black figure skater to win a United States (1986,1988) and world (1986) figure skating title. She also became the first Black person to win an Olympic medal in the Winter Olympics, winning bronze in the 1988 Games.
Vonetta Flowers – Flowers was a sprinter and long-jumper at the University of Alabama, Birmingham but after not making the Summer Olympics, she shifted her focus to the Winter Games.
In 2002, that shift paid off as she won a gold medal into the two-woman bobsled competition, becoming the first Black person to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics.
Lusia Harris – Mostly unknown to the masses, Harris was the first prototypical center that dominated the women’s college basketball game. She won three national titles at Delta State University and was part of the 1976 Olympic silver-medal winning women’s basketball team. In 1992, she became the first female basketball player inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Laila Ali – The daughter of Muhammad Ali followed his footsteps into the ring with a 24-0 record (21 by KO) and has arguably become the face of women’s boxing since her first bout 10 years ago.
Lisa Leslie – As she begins her final WNBA season this spring after announcing her retirement from basketball, it’s important to recognize how Leslie has been a pioneer in this latest stage of women’s basketball.
When the league started, she was one of the faces of the game. At the end of her career, she is still one of the most recognizable female athletes in sports. In between, the Inglewood native has helped inspire scores of future basketball players and will no doubt see herself inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in five years.