7 of the Most Influential African American Athletes in History


The world of sports is only as good as the athletes, coaches, and players who have participated in and revolutionized it. Here at Level Up Sports, we want to take a minute to honor a few of those notable athletes. In honor of February, which was Black History Month, we’re recognizing the accomplishments of a few of the most accomplished African American athletes throughout history.


Let’s dive in.

1. Michael Jordan

Even people who don’t follow sports know Michael Jordan - and for good reason. Jordan is one of the first players in any sport to have his own shoe brand, and one of the first athletes to become a multi-millionaire for his accomplishments. 


An undisputed basketball legend, Michael Jordan is a five-time NBA MVP, six-time NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP, and a 14-time NBA all-Star, among many, many other accomplishments.

2. Serena Williams 

Serena Williams is one of the best athletes in history, man or woman, in any sport. 


In addition to becoming the oldest tennis player to win a grand slam singles title in the open era (at the age of almost 34 years old), Williams has won 13 grand slam doubles titles and 21 singles grand slam titles, as well as multiple gold medals at the Olympics. 


Williams has been instrumental in paving the way for high-profile female athletes in tennis.

3. Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens made history at the 1936 Olympics. At that time, Hitler had just become the Chancellor of Germany and was planning to use the summer Olympics in Berlin as a large-scale advertisement for his Regime. Jesse Owens, however, quickly stole the show. 


He won a gold medal in the 100-meter dash and followed that up with a high-profile victory over German long jump champion Luz Long. 

From there, he set an Olympic record in the 200-meter dash and quickly became the first American (of any race) to win four gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics game. His record went unmatched until 1984. 

4. Sheryl Swoopes

Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to be signed to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) after it was founded in 1996. 


She played for the Houston Comets and won three MVP awards from the WNBA. She also won the WNBA championship four times and took home three gold medals at the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympic Games.

5. Tiger Woods

There has never been a golfer in history who has had as much impact on the sport as Tiger Woods. Behind Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods has the most major wins on the PGA Tour. 


Additionally, he was one of the first African American athletes to become a billionaire. While he hasn’t won any major titles in several years, Tiger Woods still stands out as one of the most successful and impactful golfers of all time. 

6. Ora Washington

Ora Washington won her first American Tennis Association singles title in 1929 and maintained that title for the next seven years. She reclaimed it once more in 1937. Her incredible record of seven back-to-back ATA titles would remain until 1947 when Althea Gibson broke it by winning 10 straight titles. 

7. Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to integrate the field of professional sports when he joined the MLB back in 1947. Despite his undeniable talent, Jackie Robinson faced incredible racism during his career. 


He was harassed, taunted, and insulted by fans, players, managers, and members of other teams. Despite the onslaught, Robinson never fought back, choosing instead to play his game with dignity and skill. 


He quickly became one of the greatest baseball players the sport had ever seen and was inducted into the Hall of Fame to honor his legacy. 


These Influential Athletes Have Moved Their Sports Forward

The world of sports has seen thousands of influential athletes over the years. From golf to football, tennis to baseball, and beyond, there are more inspiring, accomplished athletes than a person could learn about in a lifetime. 


These seven athletes, however, have been particularly influential in their respective sports. Their efforts, both professional and personal, have paved the way for other athletes. 


Here at Level Up Sports, we specialize in helping college athletes streamline the recruiting process and get scholarships to their dream schools. Learn more about our recruiting network or register today.