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Five of the most influential Black athletes of all time

By Hashim A Otban Oct 12, 2022
Muhammad Ali speaking at a news conferencePhoto by Mi/AP/Shutterstock

For sure this list could be a lot longer but all five of these people are indisputably global icons.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali during the build up to his fight versus Leon Spinks
Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock

Muhammad Ali is world renowned as one of, if not the greatest, boxers of all time. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr he later changed his name to Muhammad Ali upon converting to Islam in 1964.

The multi-time heavyweight champion of the world made just as much an impact outside the ring as he did in it.

Ali was known for his voice.

He was a part of the civil rights movement in the 60s and in 1966 he famously spoke out against the American government and refused to be drafted into the Vietnamese war.

This ultimately resulted in his fighting licence being revoked, stopping him from fighting during three years of his prime years.

He later returned to Boxing and became a champion once a again.

The legacy Ali leaves in both boxing and in Black history is why he is loved and respected worldwide to this day.


Pele smiles
Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Shutterstock

In a career that spanned nearly 20 years, Pele won three FIFA World Cups for Brazil and was the poster boy of football in the 60s.

Despite his success and fame Pele was still subject to racism, not just from fellow Brazilians, but from opponents on the pitch, the media and the people in charge of his future. 

In 2020 Pele, the man who began playing professional football 65 years earlier, spoke to CNN about modern day racism in football highlighting that it: “Hasn’t changed at all since [his] time.”

In 2022 when current Real Madrid football player, Vinícius Junior was subject to discrimination in the Spanish media, once again Pele was there to defend his fellow Brazilian.

Truly a pioneer who has continued fighting the fight even after retirement.

Bill Russell

President Barack Obama awards the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bill Russell
Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Shutterstock

Bill Russell was the first black superstar in the National Basketball Association, a league now filled with young successful black athletes.

He won a record 11 NBA Championships and is undoubtedly the most successful basketball player of all time.

Being a successful black man in 1960s America he was a huge target of hate.

He competed in some of the most unsafe areas of the United States during the civil rights movement, which he was a part of, taking success with him everywhere he went.

He later became the first Black coach in the NBA.

After his death in 2022 the NBA agreed to retire his jersey number 6 for all 30 teams in the Association.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams at the U.S. Open
Photo by Frank Franklin II/AP/Shutterstock

Serena Williams has led the way for Black female tennis players all over the world.

She has won everything.

From Wimbledon trophies to Olympic gold.


Williams embodies more than just what it means to be a Black person in an industry alien to them, but what it means to be a Black woman in one.

She announced her retirement in 2022 but as the greatest female tennis player of all time she will continue to push boundaries and speak out for many years to come.

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens is shown with two Olympic Oaks in Berlin, given to each winner.
Photo by AP/Shutterstock

Jesse Owens is known as one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.

At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Owens won four gold medals in track and field, winning the 100m, 200m, long jump and relay race… with Adolf Hitler in the stands watching.

In his early life Owens was stopped from gaining scholarships and even after winning four gold medals he struggled to find work back home.

Once famous for setting three world records and tying another, in the space of an hour, Owens had to settle for everyday jobs such as working at gas stations and competing at amateur sporting events, just because the colour of his skin.

By Hashim A Otban

Social Media Editor and Reporter.

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