The criterion we used to select the athletes in our curated list consists of those who have/had a high standard of excellence on or off the playing field. Serving as model sports players among their peers during the game, off field, they have an activist and entrepreneurial sense that serves the community with lessons learned along the way. As writers, these athletes share personal stories and inspiration that have shaped them throughout their lives and impressed upon them to give back to the community that they came from.
Sports Fans will enjoy reading each athlete's own words and a few works written about them just published in 2020.
1. Muhammad Ali, boxing
His powerful words, "I am the greatest,' still reign supreme as a victory lap for Black America through the person of Muhammad Ali. The only traits that exceeded his boxing skills was his sharp tongue and quick wit. He commanded our attention and gave us a proud symbol of Black Manhood. In 1967 when he refused to be inducted into the US Army, he was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his "Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World" title and banned from boxing for 3 years. In an interview on the Dick Cavette Show in 1970, he talked about all of the schools he'd visited, "Champ Burger" franchises that he'd started, college speaking circuit, and autobiography that was being worked on after the "blessing" of not being able to box and his title being stripped away. He talked about his being on a spiritual quest. He said, "No people gain freedom until ... some have to die, [or] some loose their wealth... When people make progress, some have to sacrifice alot, so why should I worry about going to jail for my people who've been catching hell over here for over 400 years..." There's so much to be learned from him in "Mahammad Ali, The Greatest, My Own Story," and a young adult book written in the same rhythmic poetic prose of Ali called, "Becoming Muhammad Ali" which was just published in 2020. Great gifts for someone who may have watched all his 37 knock out rounds and wondered about the man behind the scenes.
2. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, track and field
Tommie Smith and John Carlos stunned the world when they both raised their closed right hand (Smith) and left hand (Carlos) wearing black colored gloves in fists in a Black Power salute with heads bowed in prayer after their names were called as Gold and bronze medalists in the 1968 Olympic Games in the 200m dash. While America's National anthem was playing in the background, the two stood on the victory platform in silent demonstration of "the power within Black America, and Black unity" said "Tommie Smith in an interview after the display with Howard Cosell. Instead of placing their hands over their hearts, they protested the treatment of Black America. Days after their demonstration, they were suspended from the US team and banned from the Olympic Village by the Olympic Committee. If you're curious about the social climate of the times, and the aftermath are chronicled in their books, "Silent Gesture" by Tommie Smith, and "The John Carlos Story" by John Carlos whose brainchild the salute was.
3. Craig Hodges, NBA player
Craig Hodges twice led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage, but in 1992 the Chicago Bulls guard was released from the league after he wore a traditional African outfit known as a white grand buba (dashiki, kufi, and pant white guinea brocade) and took a letter for President George Bush to the White House. Hodges said it's important to "embrace your culture." When NBA player Craig Hodges visited Afriware Books in 2003, we celebrated an historic moment when one of our great Black sports player celebrities came back home. Craig Hodges was the highest 3-point NBA shooting percentage star for three years. He had 3 NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. To find out more about how radically his NBA career changed after wearing the garment, check out "Long Shot" which was published originally in 2017, and is now out in paperback in 2020.
4. Colin Kaepernick, NFL player
When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee while the national anthem played in 2016, he drew harsh criticism from some fans, owners of the NFL, and #45, but the Black community showered him with praise. Kaepernick said the reason he did it was because "[America] has alot of people who are oppressed, who aren't treated equally." His action caused a firestorm amongst other NFL players and other leagues across the country. We're eager to read his own writing which was reported to be available as a memoir in Feb. 2020, in the meantime, there are two titles that address this important period in sports history, "Young Kap" and "Colin Kaepernick." In the 2012 season, Kaepernick set an NFL single-game record for most rushing yards by a quarterback with 181. His protest of police brutality is looked upon reflectively like a canary in the mine and a Sports Illustrated reported went on record to say that the NFL should have listened to Kaepernick earlier. Kaepernick was a top 10 quarterback in 2013 who was thought of as "seeding" 2020's Black Lives Matter outcries. His career suffered considerably and he hasn't worked in the NFL since his conscientious actions. Also, #45 referred to the NFL players who followed him S.O.B's.
5. Florence Griffith Joyner, Track
Florence Griffith Joyner said "If I can't give it my all, I don't want to give it at all." After winning 3 gold medals in the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, the Japanese offered her a Clothing line and boutique, and, she designed uniforms for the Indiana Pacers. Affectionately known as "Flo Jo," is the fastest woman in the world and her record of 10.49 seconds in the 100m still stands today. Her inspiring exercise videos can still be found on Youtube. She starts off by saying, "Believe, Achieve and Succeed." She says she always writes her goals down and reviews them several times a day. Flo Jo also had a chic fashion sense and stunned audiences with her signature self-designed one-legged track leggings and her 4 inch long colorfully painted fingernails. She stood out on many levels and held her head high even through rumors of drug abuse.
Through the years I've been searching for books about her life and am glad to see that next year a "She Persisted" book will feature her. I was surprised to see that she co-authored with John Hanc, "Running for Dummies" because the title just didn't seem fitting for someone who had the art of running down to a science. She likely took it all in stride and confidence knowing the message may reach a wider audience.
6. Lebron James, NBA player
LeBron James - In 2014 when the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers met, teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were among several NBA players who wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts before their games. The infamous phrase references the last words uttered 11 times by Eric Garner, who was murdered after a restraining chokehold by New York City police officers in July 2014. An interview with LeBron after wearing the tshirt he said, "it's for us to understand what we're going through as a society..it was more of a shout out to the family because they're the ones that should be getting all the energy and effort." The symbolic gesture was no small feat for a sports player as owners have strict guidelines on players refraining from making any political statements. LeBron James has built a school for at-risk youth college scholarships, gave a donation of $2.5 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to support an exhibit on Muhammad Ali, to name a few of his off-court triumphs. James' "I Promise" is an uplifting endearing message with vibrant illustrations for children.
7. Kobe Bryant, NBA player
Kobe Bryant said in 2014 after arranging for the Lakers to all wear "I Can't Breathe" tshirts during warm-ups and during the basketball game, "I think if we ever loose the courage to speak up for things that we believe in, I think we really loose the value our country stands for. It's important that we have our opinions. It's important that we stand up for what we believe in." Bryant was a 5 time NBA Champ and led the NBA in scoring two times. He was named MVP in 2009 and 2010 in the NBA Finals. His game electrified stadiums. After his retirement in 2016, he started writing a children's book series called The Wizenard Series (1,2) and the Epoca Series (1,2 publ 12/15/20). The books were created to appeal to children who like sports with a twist into fantasy. The titles are "Epoca the Tree of Ecrof: Island of the Gods," (Epoca #1), "Epoca and the River of Sand," (Epoca #2), "Legacy and the Queen," and "Geese are Never Chickens." Bryant stated that he wanted to affect the imaginative nature of children. Bryant says "sports is the greatest metaphor for life" and therein are many lessons for the generations. The quality of the books is notable as they are encased in velvet, have thick colored pages making them true collectibles. Get Bryant's "Mamba Mentality" for mom/pops and the young adult series for the children. All will be enchanted with his publications some of which have been published posthumously.
8. Venus and Serena Williams, tennis
While we eagerly wait to read the words of Serena Williams, with 23 grand slams and receiving number 1 in women's single tennis on eight separate occasions amongst many other accolades, we are sure to glean much from her first coach-father Richard Williams in "Black and White - The Way I See it, " and her superstar sister Venus Williams in "Come to Win." Venus and Serena both hold grand slam women's doubles titles in 2009-2010. This family affair will inspire the generations to come. When Serena accepted the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award in 2015, she encouraged the audience by saying, "it doesn't matter how old you are, how young you are, your age, you can achieve anything you set your mind to... [it takes] discipline, hard work and self belief." Serena's HBO series, "Being Serena" is an intimate look into her life off the court to document the hills and valleys along her journey particularly with the birth of her daughter. Williams has used her platform on social media to support the BLM movement and equal pay for female athletes.
Thank you for reading this post. Feel free to make suggestions for other athletes you'd place on your list. For the complete list for sports fans, visit this link here. Additional resources are here:
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