There’s still some work to be done, of course, but recent decades have seen huge advances made in the strive for equality so that people across Arizona and beyond are living in a fairer and more tolerant society, where the key to success is based upon merit alone. Politicians, religious leaders, and great thinkers have been at the forefront of these advances, but so have our athletes. Few things can break down barriers and bring people together like sports, so here are three legendary athletes who smashed barriers and were successes on and off the field of play.
Moses Fleetwood Walker
If somebody asks you who Moses Fleetwood Walker was, you can answer that he may not be as well-known as Babe Ruth, but he was just as important when it comes to the history of baseball. In 1884, Moses played 42 games for Toledo in the American Association, and that made him the first person of color to play baseball professionally in America. He had a lot of barriers to overcome, and he was often subjected to racist chants and segregation in hotels and restaurants, but Moses stood tall and proud, and never let it affect his game. Injury ultimately cut his career short, but Moses Fleetwood Walker was a true trailblazer for racial equality in baseball, and in sport as a whole.
Serena Williams is one of the most famous athletes in the world, and arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, but leading the world in 1956 was Althea Gibson. When she won the French Open, one of the four grand slam events on the tennis calendar, she made waves not only for her prowess with a tennis racket but also because of her color. Althea was the first ever person of color to win a grand slam trophy, and she paved the way for legends of the sport such as Arthur Ashe and Serena and Venus Williams.
In an acclaimed career, Jason Collins played for many great NBA teams, including seven seasons with the New Jersey Nets. He won fans around the world for his skills as a center, but he won even more fans because of a bold stance that he took in 2013. At the end of the 2013 NBA season, Collins announced to the world that he was gay, making him the first openly LGBTQ person in any of the major American sports leagues. Incredibly, Collins found himself ostracized by some, and he didn’t play another game until February 2014 when the Brooklyn Nets signed him. He has since become an ambassador for LGBTQ rights in sport, and it is thanks to his example and tireless work that so many advances have been made in recent years.
Moses Fleetwood Walker never achieved his potential because of injury, and Jason Collins never made an NBA All-Star Team, but along with Althea Gibson who did reach the pinnacle of her sport, they were all excellent professional athletes and excellent human beings. They showed that gender, race, and sexual orientation need not stop you achieving what you want in life, in any field of life, and that’s a lesson that children and adults in Arizona and beyond can take inspiration from.