As we continue Black History Month celebrations at Street League, we wanted to share our Top 10 Black sporting heroes.
From sprinting to football to tennis, from Britain to America, here’s a roundup of some of our top inspirations:
Dina Asher Smith
Dina Asher-Smith is the fastest British woman in history, and the first British woman to win a major global sprint title.
London born Asher-Smith started breaking records at a young age, running a world-best 39.16 seconds in the 300m aged just 13.
Asher-Smith is rarely seen without a smile on her face, and showing an incredible ability to push through adversity, Asher-Smith won 4x100m silver at the 2017 World Championships despite breaking her foot five months earlier.
Before the pandemic struck, her largest major competition appearance was at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where she won gold in the 200 metres once more, plus two more silvers in the 100 metres and relay events. That same year, she recorded her all-time personal bests for both the 100 and 200 metres, 10.83 and 21.88 seconds respectively.
Manchester born Marcus Rashford is an English professional footballer who plays as a forward for Premier League club Manchester United and the England national team.
He was introduced to football at an early age, and his football skills were so impressive that Manchester United academy signed him to their footballer system at the young age of 7. In 2016 Marcus became the youngest English player to score in his first senior international game.
Rashford hasn’t made this list for being a hard-working and skilful player alone, he is also a dedicated advocate against child food poverty. Marcus grew up in a home where they relied on free school meals and at times on food banks, and has been vocal in a campaign asking the government to offer a guaranteed meal a day to all school children in England in financially struggling families.
Furthermore, after Rashford and two other Black players missed penalty kicks in the final moments of the 2020 Euro finals, they were targeted with an onslaught of racial abuse. However, Marcus showed a great amount of resiliency, stating: “I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from.”
Venus and Serena Williams
There are few names that have captured the tennis world’s attention as much as twenty-three-time grand slam singles champion Serena Williams and her sister, seven-time major singles champion Venus Williams.
The Williams sisters worked tirelessly from a young age to perfect their craft in a sport which was, and to an extent still is, predominantly white. They shot into the scene with the power to shake the foundation of the country-club atmosphere of tennis forever more.
In recent years, age and injuries have taken their toll, yet Serena is just one Grand Slam singles title away from equalling Margaret Court's all-time record.
Denise Lewis OBE is an accomplished presenter, broadcaster, former athlete and President of Commonwealth Games England. Lewis, a retired track and field athlete who specialised in the heptathlon, was brought up in Wolverhampton.
The heptathlon is considered one of the ultimate all-round athletic tests, consisting of the following 7 events: 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m. Lewis won the gold medal in the heptathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Lewis is considered to be one of the ‘golden girls’ of British athletics having been inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011 and twice been runner-up in BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 1998 and 2000.
Throughout her career, Denise Lewis has used her platform to highlight projects that discuss and promote diversity.
Ohio born Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast, with more than two dozen Olympic and World Championship medals to her name.
Biles demonstrated her abilities as a gymnastics prodigy at a young age. After dominating at the junior elite level, she won her first U.S. and world all-around titles in 2013. In 2015, she claimed a record third straight world all-around title. She went on to lead the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team, nicknamed "The Final Five," to victory at the 2016 Summer Games, while also winning gold in the individual all-around, vault and floor exercise and earning a bronze in the balance beam. Biles went on to grab a record sixth U.S. all-around title in 2019, and set another record by winning her 25th World Championship medal that fall.
On top of being a top athlete, Biles has also played a crucial role in the #MeToo movement and discussions around mental health in sports. In January 2018, Biles revealed on Twitter that she was one of the many young women who had been harmed by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who had recently been sentenced for criminal sexual conduct. This year, Biles also received praise for putting her mental health first when withdrawing from the team competition in the 2020 Olympic Games.
"I just think mental health is more prevalent in sports right now... we have to protect our minds and our bodies and not just go out and do what the world wants us to do.”
Ifeoma Dieke was born in Massachusetts to Nigerian parents and moved to Scotland when she was three-years-old. She started playing with her local Cumbernauld club aged eight, and her talents landed her a college scholarship at Florida International University in the United States.
Dieke has played for clubs both sides of the Atlantic, and competed for Team GB at London 2012 under coach Hope Powell. Ifeoma made her Scotland debut in 2004 against Greece and become a national team stalwart. She reached her 50th cap in a 3-1 win over Northern Ireland in May 2009 and retired in 2017 after appearing at the European Championships with Scotland.
Dieke also made history by becoming the first Black captain in the Scottish women’s team. Dieke said: "To know that maybe down the line there could be a future female black captain, and knowing that if I go down in the books as the first one then that will inspire someone else to be like me."
Lewis Hamilton is a British race-car driver who was one of the most successful Formula One (F1) Grand Prix racing drivers of all time. He owns the F1 record for career race victories and is tied with Michael Schumacher for the most drivers’ championships (seven). In 2008 he became the first Black driver to win the F1 world drivers’ championship.
Hamilton began his driving career when he was eight years old. In 1995, a young Lewis walked up to McLaren team boss Ron Dennis, asked for his autograph and said: “Hi. I’m Lewis Hamilton. I won the British championship and one day I want to be racing your cars.”
At 13, Hamilton was signed to the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz Young Driver Support Programme, where he was given the support and backing he needed to train and develop his skills. From 1998 to 2000 he won European and world karting championships, and at age 15 he became the youngest-ever driver to be ranked number one in the sport.
Off the racetrack, Hamilton is a dedicated advocate for human and animal rights, and the environment. On November 15th, 2020, when he dominated the podium at the Turkey Grand Prix, he said: “while you’re here, paying attention, I want to ask everyone to do their part in helping to create a more equal world. Let’s be more accepting and kinder to each other. Let’s make it so that opportunity is not something that is dependent on background or skin colour. Nothing is impossible.”
Nicola Adams OBE is a British former professional boxer who competed from 2017 to 2019. Adams retired with an undefeated record and held the WBO female flyweight title in 2019.
Before going professional, Adams had a successful amateur career, being the first female boxer to become an Olympic champion, winning gold at her home 2012 Olympic games in London. She then became the first double Olympic champion following her second gold medal at Rio 2016.
As of May 2016, Adams was the reigning Olympic, World and European Games champion as a flyweight boxer. She had won the entire set of amateur championships available to her – Olympic, Commonwealth and European Games' titles, and the World, European and European Union championships.
Away from the ring, Adams has advocated for more focus on women’s sports, stating: “The only time that you really get to see a lot of women’s sport is when the Olympics is on and I think we should show a lot more of it.”
Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee, USA. Throughout high school, Kaepernick played baseball and received several scholarship offers for the sport but it was football that he went on to play in college.
Kaepernick began his NFL career at the San Francisco 49ers where he would stay until opting out of his contract in March 2017. Kaepernick was the team’s starting quarterback for most of his time and notably led them to the Superbowl in 2013 where the 49ers narrowly lost out.
Colin Kaepernick first protested racial injustice, police brutality and systematic oppression in 2016 when he chose to sit instead of stand during the US national anthem. After speaking with a US army veteran, Kaepernick decided to kneel instead of sitting down as a sign of respect for military personnel.
This action has been echoed around the world of sport with many NFL stars taking a knee throughout the year of 2017 and more recently sees a wide range of football teams around the world kneel before every game. Kaepernick is now described as an activist and has went on provide free training on higher education, self-empowerment and instructions on how to properly interact with law enforcement.
Michael Jordan is regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time.
Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1963. Jordan’s family moved to North Carolina when he was young where he would grow up to accept a basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. Jordan left university a year early in 1984 to enter the NBA draft. Jordan returned to university while balancing his NBA career in 1986 to complete his degree, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography.
Jordan spent majority of his career at the Chicago Bulls where he won six NBA titles. Alongside this, Jordan was a six-time MVP in the NBA Finals and a 14-time NBA All Star.
Jordan has made it a habit of donating to charitable functions since retiring from the NBA in 2003. After the tragic death of George Floyd last May, Jordan revealed that his company, Jordan Brand, would donate $100 million over the next 10 years for "racial equality, social justice, and greater access to education."