Athletes among the top 100

Part two of a three-part series:

In DR. COLUMBUS SALLEY’s informative book The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Africans-Americans Past and Present, his list included 14 people who had significant athletic experience. These athletes’ exploits, life experiences and athletic achievements have contributed to advancement of people of African descent in particular and the whole of the United States of America in general, as well as helping the world in its forward progress.

It is important to understand that the positive strides that Black people made in America have always caused advancement, prosperity and growth for all people in America in general, and in totality. These advances have also assisted the world in its advancement.

PAUL ROBESON (1898-1976), an All-America football player for Rutgers University and an actor, singer and orator, declared in 1934, “In my music, my plays, my films, I want to carry always a central idea: to be an African. Multitudes of men have died for less worthy ideals; it is even more imminently worth living for.”

The Phi Beta Kappa graduate finished Columbia Law School while playing professional football to pay his way. He also spoke 25 languages. Dr. Salley would say that “Robeson’s quest ‘to be an African’ in all his thoughts and deeds has come to symbolize the duty of all African-Americans to utilize their diverse, rich culture, to promote the black aesthetic and to liberate blacks and all people, everywhere.”

JACKIE ROBINSON (1919-72) became the first American-born Black player to play in the major leagues in 1947. He was picked to break the impediment because of his background. Many of the decision-makers thought that his college background, which resulted in varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track, rendered him able to withstand the negative and positive pressure that would be visited upon the player chosen to be the barrier-breaker in Major League Baseball.

He met all the wishes, standards and hopes of those who wanted him to succeed. Although people like to emphasize the “barrier-breaking” aspect of his entry in baseball, there are many who feel that he saved all of baseball.

His contributions on and off the field displayed all-star-level expertise. His skillful and positive actions on and off the field of play, in addition to his even-tempered demeanor in the face of on- and off-field hostilities, were major attributes that were necessary for the major league pioneer to possess.

Since his entry to Major League Baseball, all aspects of the game have been improved. He did not feel that his breaking the barrier was enough, so he fought successfully until his death for Black people to ascend to positions of influence at the managerial level, the executive level, and the ownership level.

Recently, baseball showed its appreciation for Robinson’s impact by all players wearing his number 42 in their respective games on April 15. Again, that is looked upon as a victory for Black people that is, in fact, a victory for all of America — and yes, the world.

Many others whose contributions have at first been characterized as great achievements and progress for the African community in America have in fact bestowed greater gain on all of America — and yes, the world.

Kwame McDonald welcomes reader responses to or by phone at 651-398-5278.