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Black history month monumental for athletics

The month of February tends to begin signaling the turning point of winter to spring across America, but it also stands as Black History Month.

Black History Month is very important to the sports world abroad and here at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Jackie Robinson once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Robinson’s life was important, as he has impacted the lives of millions of African Americans who have aspired to be athletes today.

Born in 1919, Jackie Robinson lettered in four sports at the University of California, Los Angeles, until being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 for World War II. He gave black athletes a chance to compete in major athletics by breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson.

Robinson went on to hit .297, lead the league in stolen bases and captured the National League Rookie of the Year award for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Robinson became a Hall of Fame second baseman when elected on the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s first ballot in 1962, with a career .311 batting average.

Another athlete who faced the hardships of being a black man in sports was Jesse Owens. Owens dominated the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany by winning the gold medal in the long jump, the 100- meter dash and the 200-meter dash. More importantly, Owens victories in 1936 were on the home turf of Adolph Hitler, a racist who declared that blacks were inferior to whites.

Owens was awarded The Medal of Freedom in 1976, the highest civilian award a United States citizen can receive. The “Greatest,” Muhammad Ali (56-5, 37 KOs), fought in several of the historic boxing matches of his time, fighting legends Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Ali’s greatest fight was for the civil rights movement. Ali was looked up to by Martin Luther King, Jr. and idolized Malcolm X and his Nation of Islam movement.

Without the efforts of Robinson, Owens and Ali, who knows what the presence
of black athletes around the country and around the world would be like.

As we go into Black History Month, we look back at all the what-ifs.

What if the color barrier was never broken?

What if Martin Luther King Jr. never stood up for racial equality?

What if we had a white team and a black team for different sports?

Three of the starting five on the men’s basketball team and two of the starting five on the women’s basketball team at FGCU are black.

But what if all of the great leaders in equality never broke through the barrier and nothing changed. What would an all-white basketball team look like?

Would senior Sherwood Brown and junior Bernard Thompson be leading the FGCU men’s basketball team?

Led by Sherwood Brown’s 16.0 points per game, if you take all the black players off the FGCU men’s basketball team, the team would average 34.5 points per game. Would someone other than senior Brittany Kennedy bring the ball up the court for the FGCU women’s basketball team?

On the women’s side, the FGCU women’s basketball team would average 45.8 points per game.

Maybe we are used to black athletes leading the sports world today that we forget the sacrifices made by men like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens.

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