Celebrate Black History Month with BOXTOROW: The History Makers

Celebrate Black History Month with FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW: The History Makers

Everyday is Black History Month on FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW. But in keeping with the spirit and the tradition of Black History Month in February, FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW has an extra special month of activities and shows planned that will put FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW at the forefront of sports talk shows.

The History Makers: Past, Present, and Future


Jack Johnson (1878 – 1946) was the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, holding the title from 1908-1915. He won the “Colored Heavyweight Championship” in 1902 beating “Denver” Ed Martin in over 20 rounds. The heavyweight champion of the world at the time James Jeffries refused to fight him. On December 26, 1908 he won the World Heavyweight Title knocking out Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in 14 rounds in Sydney, Australia. The undefeated Jeffries, who retired as champion, came out of retirement to fight Johnson. The fight took place in Reno, NV on July 4, 1910 in front of 22,000 fans as Johnson knocked Jefferies out in 15 rounds. Johnson’s win sparked race riots around the country. On April 5, 1915 Johnson lost his title to Jess Willard before a crowd of 25,000 at the Vedado Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, Johnson was knocked out in the 26th round of the scheduled 45-round fight.

Fritz Pollard (1894 – 1986) was one of the first Black players in pro football and was the first Black coach in pro football. Pollard was a two-time All-American halfback at Brown University and as a freshman led Brown to the Rose Bowl in 1915 becoming the first African-American to play in the Rose Bowl. After service in the Army during World War I, he turned pro and joined the Akron Pros in 1919. In 1920, the Pros joined the newly founded American Professional Football Association, later renamed the National Football League. He was known to be the most feared back in the league. During his pro football career he played and sometimes coached for four different NFL teams, the Pros/Indians (1920-21/1925-26), the Milwaukee Badgers (1922), the Hammond Pros (1923, 1925), and the Providence Steam Roller (1925). Pollard also spent time in 1923 and 1924 playing for the Gilberton Cadamounts, a strong independent pro team in the Pennsylvania “Coal League.” In 1928, Pollard organized and coached the Chicago Black Hawks, an all-African American professional team based in the Windy City. Pollard’s Black Hawks played against white teams around Chicago, but enjoyed their greatest success by scheduling exhibition games against West Coast teams during the winter months. In 2005, Pollard was finally indicted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He leaves behind a great legacy which includes the Fritz Pollard Alliance, dedicated to assisting minority, candidates in their pursuit of head coaching positions. Photo courtesy of Edward North Robinson Collection of Brown Athletics, Brown University Archives.

Paul “Tank” Younger (1928 – 2001) was the first African-American to play in the NFL from a Historically Black College and University. A graduate of Grambling he is also the first African-American to be a front office NFL executive. He played both running back and linebacker while at Grambling under head coach Eddie Robinson. He totaled 60 touchdowns for this career and was named Black College Football’s Player of the Year his senior season. In 1949, Younger signed as a free agent with the Los Angles Rams after not being drafted. He was named to the Pro Bowl five times during his career and became the first Black player to play in an All-Star Game. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry during his pro career. He was a front-office and executive with the Rams until 1975 when he became assistant GM of the San Diego Chargers until 1987. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Rams.

Jerry Rice (1962 – ) was one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. Rice played 21 seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks. He was selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times and helped lead the 49ers to three Super Bowl victories and was named Super Bowl XXIII MVP. Rice is the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), and touchdowns (207). His college career at Mississippi Valley State was as impressive as he teamed up with Delta Devil quarterback Willie Totten to form “Satellite Express.” During Rice’s senior year, the Delta Devils averaged 59 points per game. Rice finished ninth in the Heisman voting that year. His collegiate career totals were 310 receptions for 4,856 yards and 51 touchdowns, which at the time was an NCAA record for total career touchdowns. Rice was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Photo Courtesy of Rodney Lee.

Eddie Robinson (1919 – 2007) became the first football coach to win 400 games, retiring from Grambling in 1997 as the winningest coach in college football history with 408 wins. He coached Grambling from 1941 – 1997. Robinson coached more than 200 players that went on to play in the NFL, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Willie Brown, Junious (Buck) Buchanan, Willie Davis, and Charlie Joiner. He coached Paul “Tank” Younger the first player from a Historically Black College to play in the NFL, James Harris, the first African-American to start an NFL game and Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl. His Grambling team’s won 17 conference titles and eight Black College National Championships during his tenure. There are many awards in his name including SBN Coach of the Year, Sports Network’s Division I-AA Coach of the Year and the Football Writers Association of America Coach of the Year. Robinson helped to establish Grambling as a household name. Photo courtesy of Grambling State University.

Jackie Robinson (1919 – 1972) became the first Black player to play in Major League Baseball’s modern era breaking the color barrier in 1947. Early on he was subjected to much verbal abuse by fans and players alike. He was awarded the first ever Rookie of the Year award in 1947, won the National League MVP Award in 1949 and helped the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series title in 1955. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He started his baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1944 before being signed by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey in 1945. Robinson was a champion for civil rights throughout his career. In his last public appearances in 1972 he asked for Major League Baseball to hire a Black manager. Frank Robinson became the first Black manager in Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Indians in 1974. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ryan Howard (1979- ) became the fastest player in Major League Baseball history to hit 100 homeruns when he hit his 100th on June 27, 2007 after playing in just 325 games in his Major League career. Howard made his Major League debut when he was called up from the minors on September 1, 2004. In 42 plate appearances in 19 games with the Phillies in 2004 he posted a .282 batting average with two home runs and five RBI. In 2005, Howard was named the NL Rookie of the Year after leading all rookies with 22 home runs. He also posted a .288 average and 63 RBI in just 312 at-bats and 88 games. The following year Howard earned NL MVP after leading MLB with 58 homeruns. He batted .313 and drove in 149 runs. In 2008, Howard hit a league-leading 48 homeruns and 146 RBI in helping to lead the Phillies to a World Series Title.  In a little more than nine seasons and in 1178 games, Howard is batting .265 with 334 homeruns and 1058 RBI.

Earl Lloyd (1928 – 2015) was the first African-American to play in the NBA with the Washington Capitols in 1950. He played a total of nine seasons in the NBA with the Capitols, Syracuse Nationals and the Detroit Pistons, winning a championship with the Nationals in 1955. He was the first African-American assistant coach and the second African-American head coach both with the Pistons. During his collegiate playing days at West Virginia State College he led them to two CIAA Conference and Tournament Championships in 1948 and 1949. He was named All-CIAA three times and All-American twice. In 2003, he was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. Photo Courtesy of NBA.

Ben Wallace (1974 – ) along with Dikembe Mutombo, is the only player in NBA history to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award four times. Wallace is best known for his defense and rebounding. In 2004, he helped lead the Detroit Pistons to the NBA title. During his career played for the Washington Wizards, Orland Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Chicago Bulls. His career averages include 5.7 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.0 blocks per game. He was named an NBA All-Star four times (2003-06). During his junior and senior seasons at Virginia Union he averaged 13.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game and as a senior was named All-CIAA and first team All-American.

Althea Gibson (1927 – 2003) became the first African-American woman to compete on the tennis tour in 1950. She continued to improve her game while attending Florida A&M. After graduating in 1953 she won the 1955 Italian Championships. In 1957 she was ranked the No. 1 player in the world and was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, a feat she would also accomplish the following year. She won 11 major titles in the late 1950s, including singles titles at the French Open (1956), Wimbledon (1957, 1958) and the U. S. Open (1957, 1958), as well as three straight doubles crowns at the French Open (1956, 1957, 1958). She also became the first African-American to compete on the LPGA tour. In 1975 she was voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of Florida A&M.

Venus Williams (1980 – ) has won 10 Grand Slam singles championships and became the first Black woman to be ranked No. 1 in the world in 2002, since the computers began ranking players in 1975. She has won Wimbledon five times (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008), the U.S. Open twice (2000, 2001), the Australian Open twice (2003, 2017) and the French Open once (2002) She has teamed up with sister Serena to win 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. Williams has won 49 singles titles overall.

Serena Williams (1981 – ) has won 23 Grand Slam titles sine turning pro in 1995. She became only the second player to win a Grand Slam as an unranked player winning the 2007 Australian Open. She has never won all four Grand Slam titles in one calendar year, but won what is known as the “Serena Slam” holding all four titles at one time. She has won the Australian Open seven times (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017) the French Open three times (2002, 2013, 2015), Wimbledon seven times (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016) and the U.S. Open six times (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014). She has been ranked the No. 1 player in the world for 319 weeks and has won 72 career singles titles.

Wilma Rudolph (1940 – 1994) became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics, winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and running the anchor on the 400-meter relay team in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In her first Olympic games of 1956 she won a bronze medal in the 4×4 relay. Rudolph was a member of the famous Tigerbells, the women’s track team at Tennessee State and graduated from Tennessee State in 1963. She was named United Press Athlete of the Year and Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year in 1960. After her track career she was very much an ambassador of the sport of track and field and founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a community-based non-profit outreach program to nurture young athletes. Photo courtesy of Tennessee State.

Wendell Scott (1920 – 1990) was the first African-American race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. The Danville, VA native started racing in 1947. In 1959, Scott enjoyed his best season ever. He won 22 races and captured the Richmond track championship as well as the Virginia State Sportsman title. Scott bought a year-old Chevrolet in 1961 and moved up to NASCAR’s Grand National division. In 1963 Scott finished 15 in the points. NASCAR ran a split season then, and the third race of the 1964 season was on December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, a one-mile dirt track. Scott beat Buck Baker to become the first Black to win on NASCAR’s highest level, a distinction he still holds. Scott finished 11th in 1965, was a career-high 6th in 1966, 10th in 1967, and finished 9th in both 1968 and ’69. His top year in winnings was 1969 when he won $47,451. He was elected into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999. He was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. Photo courtesy of NASCAR.

Bill Lester (1961 – ) Up until 2007 was the only African-American driver competing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and the NEXTEL CUP. In 1999, he became the first African-American to run a Busch Series race, when he ran at Watkins Glen in the #8 Dura Lube Chevrolet Monte Carlo owned by Bobby Hillin, Jr. The next season, he made his Craftsman Truck debut at Portland , starting 31st and finishing 24th in the #23 Red Line Oil truck owned by Team 23 Racing. He also competed against Bobby Norfleet in that race, marking the only time in NASCAR two African-Americans have competed in the same race. In 2002, he ran in the Craftsman Truck series full-time for Hamilton . He had sixteen finishes between 11th-18th, leading to a seventeenth place points finish and runner-up to Brendan Gaughan for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year. The next season, he grabbed his first career pole at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and had a tenth-place run at Kansas Speedway, garnering a 14th place finish in the championship standings. He switched over to Bill Davis Racing in 2004. He had a best finish of 10th and finished 22nd in points. In 2005, he won two consecutive poles, and had his first top-five finishes. Lester raced in his first Nextel Cup race in the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, driving the #23 Waste Management Dodge Charger for Davis in 2006. He qualified 19th, becoming the first African-American to make a Cup race since 1986, and the sixth in series history. Photo courtesy of NASCAR.

Charlie Sifford (1922 – 2015) was the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour full-time and the first to win a PGA Tour event. In 1957 Sifford won the Long Beach Open which was not an official PGA event but was co-sponsored by the PGA. He became a member of the Tour in 1961 and won the Greater Hartford Open Invitational in 1967 and the Los Angles Open in 1969. He also won the Senior PGA Championship in 1975. In 2004 Sifford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Tiger Woods (1975 – ) is one of the most famous athletes in the world. He has won 14 major championships since turning pro in 1996. In 1997 he won his first golf major, winning the Master’s and becoming the youngest player to ever do so. He has 79 wins on the PGA Tour and has won the Master’s four times (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005), the U.S. Open three times (2000, 2002, 2008), the British Open three times (2000, 2005, 2006), and the PGA Championship four times (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007). He has been named PGA Tour Player of the Year a record 11 times. Photo Courtesy of Gerald Walter.

Muhammad Ali (1942 – 2016 ) is arguably the greatest champion in boxing history. A three -time heavy weight champion of the world, Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., won the Olympic gold medal in 1960. He first fought for the World’s Heavyweight Championship in 1964, defeating Sonny Liston. He won the title again defeating George Foreman in 1974. Ali regained the championship for a third time, which at that time was a record, when he defeated Leon Spinks in 1978. Ali transcended boxing. Shortly after winning his first championship in 1964, he announced he was joining the Nation of Islam. In 1967, he refused entrance into the United States Army based upon his religious beliefs and was subsequently stripped of his title. During his three years out of boxing he went around to college campuses and spoke out against the Vietnam War. After not fighting for three years he was granted a boxing license in Georgia and fought Jerry Quarry in 1970 and won on a TKO in three rounds. His conviction for refusing induction into the U.S. Army was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971. He fought in the Fight of the Century against Joe Frazier at Madison Garden in 1971, The Rumble in the Jungle against Foreman and the Thrilla in Manila, his final fight against Joe Frazier. He is known as The Greatest.

Bill Russell (1934 – ) In addition to being one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history, he also was the NBA’s first African-American coach winning two world titles in three years as coach of the Boston Celtics in 1968 and 1969. During his playing days he was the cornerstone of the Celtics dynasty and won the league’s MVP award five times and won a total of 11 championships during his playing days with the Celtics. For his career he averaged 14.5 points and 22.5 rebounds per game. He was elected to the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. Photo courtesy of the Boston Celtics.

Art Shell (1946 – ) is the first African-American to be head coach in the NFL’s modern era. His first stint as the head coach of the then Los Angeles Raiders began in 1989. He took over a team that was 1-3 and led them to a 7-5 finish. In 1990 he was named AFC Coach of the Year, guiding the raiders to a 12-4 record and a berth in the AFC Championship Game. His career record with the Raiders was 56-52. A third-round pick out of Maryland State (now University of Maryland-Eastern Shore) he played offensive tackle and played in Super Bowls XI and XV. He was one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1989. Photo courtesy of Rodney Lee

Tony Dungy (1956 – ) became the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl when his Colts defeated the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007. Dungy retired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in early 2009. His career head coaching record which included a six-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was 139-69. Dungy’s contributions are many including helping to lead the institution of the Rooney Rule by Steelers owner Dan Rooney, requiring teams to interview minority coaches. Mike Tomlin of the Steelers is a former Dungy assistant and became the youngest African-American coach to win the Super Bowl and the second Black coach to do so. Dungy began his NFL coaching career with the Steelers in 1981 as assistant coach. In 1982, he was named defensive backfield coach, and was promoted in 1984 to defensive coordinator. He left the Steelers in 1989 to become the defensive backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, and took over the defensive coordinator position for the Minnesota Vikings under in 1992. He is currently and NFL analyst for NBC Sports.


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