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Having a troublesome history black community, for the last few decades, has been so prominent in their endeavor for fundamental rights, voicing their opinion, showing their concerns, and pointing out what’s wrong many black individuals have found the spotlight. That spotlight puts them out for judgment of the masses.

They receive hatred, be criticized, and are discriminated against, but their courage is rare. How they speak up for their rights is contagious to many others to speak up for themselves, such are the people who always make history and always remember in public heart. Those are the people we are going to discuss here today.

African American Athletes those Changed History
Let to right: Muhammad Ali Kalay, Carlos Delgado, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Their journey has left an imprint on our hearts that people never forget to revisit their struggles. More than their struggles, their courage is what compels us to admire them. And sometimes, when we ourselves need courage in our life, we find our strength in their revolutionary acts. Therefore, here in this blog, we are going to discuss the heroic stories of African American athletes that changed history.

African American Athletes That Changed History

Muhammad Ali Kalay Refused to Join the Military

Muhammad ali an African American Athletes That Changed History
Source: Muhammad Ali (right) fighting Ernie Terrell, 1967 –

Muhammad Ali, by profession, was a boxer who became the heavyweight champion of boxing in the games of 1967. Belonging to the United States’ most marginalized community, Muhammad had serious concerns for the socio-economic status of black people in society. Equality was a dream of every black family; their plight was nothing but the disgust white supremacists felt toward the dark skin people around them.

Being one of the world’s most recognized African American athletes, Muhammad made a daring decision to convert his religion, especially to Islam, which was much more negatively perceived in American society. He spoke up against the various extremist ideology that took a strong hold on American society. He added another brick to the ongoing revolution and became one of the legendary African American athletes that changed history.

Being a champion in boxing, Muhammad was a public sensation. His remark reading how he felt within his native society has made people have every sort of opinion of him. Muhammad Ali, at the peak of his career, changed his religion and his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay to an Islamic name, ‘Muhammad Ali’.

Besides that, he openly refuses to join the US military in a war against Vietnam. Because he deemed it baseless and had no good purpose. He was drafted in Us Army in 1966, but at the time of induction, he refused to fight in Vietnam, and His remarks on the Vietnam war were as follows;

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

-Muhammad ali kalay

“No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars that should accrue to me as the champion.”

-Muhammad Ali kalay

“If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow.”

-Muhammad Ali kalay

Despite being a dark athlete in the most difficult era for American society- the decade of 1906’s, when racism and discrimination were at their peak, Muhammad didn’t manage to make a spot for himself in the national boxing team but strived hard enough to make a win a medal for the country. He openly shared his feelings for injustice, color discrimination, and another plague gradually galloping the peaceful society.

Black Power Salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos

Tommie Smith, an African American Athletes That Changed History
Tommie Smith’s entrance to the Olympics to the NFL. Source:
John Carlos, an African American Athletes That Changed History
John Carlos’s victory. Source:

The 1960s was the decade of civil insurgency that demanded justice for various social plagues growing unchecked in society; at the center was the black community. The ones who were exploited were the ones that raised the concern. The country-wide protest took the attention of the masses all around the world.

If you want a change, you need to address it. You need to point out where it is going wrong. Silence never rewards us with a change. If you really want things to get better, have your words heard and be seen. That’s the belief of a few African American Athletes That Changed History. They did not just compromise their identity for who they are, and never let anyone marginalize their status in society. At every forum, they could make the issue heard. They did well to make a change.

The black power salute is one of those gestures they did show to address the racism against the black community in the United States of America. Tommie Smithy and John Carlos were two African American Athletes who brought worldwide attention to racism in 1968 when they raised up their fist wearing black gloves during the playing of America’s national anthem in the Olympic games in Mexico.

The bravest action was that they knew the treatment they would face afterward, and they were bashed over it throughout the country. The picture becomes the front-page news in various countries.

Later on in an interview, Tommie Smith further elaborated on his act, for if he wins, he is American, but when he does something bad or doesn’t perform better, he becomes the Black Nergo. Why do all African American athletes receive this treatment?

He questioned the negligence of coaches and the academy in assisting the black athletes properly because they constantly discriminated against black and white athletes within the academy. He proudly acknowledged his identity and the community he belonged to:

“We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

-Tommie Smith

Carlos Delgado

Carlos Delgado, an African American Athletes That Changed History
The Toronto Blue Jays Carlos Delgado, right, and the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada watch Delgado’s second home run of the night in the third inning at New York’s Yankee Stadium. Source:

Carlos Juan Delgado Hernández, a fine baseball player, is from Puerto Rican who later became the coach, played in major league baseball games, and won many for the country. His remark became a controversy in the country when he didn’t support US Army in their brutal War in Afghanistan and Iraq. He believed the War was not needed, and it aimlessly killed thousands of people and made horrible stories for millions of families living in those countries.

America itself was going through a commotion about why does it need to involve in outside wars. In the 7th inning of the game, Carlos Delgado went to the dugout to record his protest by silently standing there. He refuses to acknowledge the song “God bless America” because it represents a war that he never did and never will support.

Afterward, he faces the sheer aggression of Yankee fans who call themselves the most patriotic and dependents of great America. Carlos Delgado, on the other hand, continued his protest against the cruel war that America initiated and predominately ruled.

It was a brave act of Carlos to point out what was wrong in the face of hurt and despair after the incident of nine eleven. He believed it was heart-wrenching what happened in America, but it is equally terrible for what now they were doing in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mahmud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Wayne Jackson) The Silent Prayer

Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, an African American Athletes That Changed History
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Wayne Jackson). Source:

Making history was not always about color but aspects of your identity that make them vulnerable to society. Religious beliefs were also one of those that needed to address. In liberated America where everyone is supposed to have the freedom to live their life however they want. So, why people believing in Islam are marginalized and looked down upon?

America vehemently hated Muslims for being extremists while at the same time, they themselves be the bigger extremist when they encounter any Muslim. They become judgmental and treat others discriminately. So, where is the acceptance, tolerance, and liberty America is known for? He was one of the rebel African American athletes that changed history. He started the journey of pointing out what’s wrong and unjust.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Wayne Jackson, changed his name once he converted to Islam. He refused to stand up and pay respect to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States of America.

Because he believed the anthem didn’t protect all of the people in the United States and rather supported oppression and discrimination. The version of the United States he experienced changing his religion was unjust and a tyrant. So, he doesn’t respect the anthem that represents unjust people.

There were uncountable African American athletes that changed history, giving their blood, tears, and sweat to the passion they chose for themselves. Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Serena Williams, Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, and many others have marked their names in history, but the journey they experienced is sheer depressing.

Did they get the acknowledgment and love that they deserved? If not, then years after they are in the games, they have their stories imprinted in our heart that has become a beacon of courage for many young athletes today.

Final Thoughts

One thing that black people struggle in the United States have done to change the world is they didn’t just fight for them, but they paved the way for every nation in any country in the world who is being looked down upon based on skin. The thing is that racism is not restricted to the United States of America. It goes beyond geographical boundaries.

The racism that has gone on in human nature for centuries couldn’t be limited to just one country. There are various nations in various countries that are suffering from discrimination at a very undivulged pace. The courage and confidence of the Black community in the United States to love themselves regardless of how people think of them gave the same courage to other brothers in pain.

Just as Author Brene Brown says about courage in her book, “Gift of imperfections”.

Queen pin, The Story of Yvonne Barnes and The Motown Records Bowlerettes

These were a few African American athletes that changed history, taking hold of courage and self-acceptance. They decided to embrace the vulnerabilities associated with their community. They showed up, were seen, and asked the world what they wanted. They did it until the world heard of it. Such a story of black American woman athlete Yvonne Barnes that author R. Ray Barnes shares in his book Queen pins. If you want to learn more about the African American athletes that changed history, the book is the perfect pick for you.

Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.

-Brene Brown

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