Celebrating Athletes During Black History Month

Published on 27th October, 2021

This week we want to highlight the amazing achievements of some of the many black British athletes who are exceptional sports people and hope you can share their stories with your pupils.

These athletes, whether actively, or through the obstacles they have overcome, inspire others, raise profiles, and promote change within sport and society.  We hope you can share their stories with your pupils and enjoy reading and learning about these influential figures.

Lewis Hamilton

Driving for Team Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton is the first, and so far only, black Formula One driver to race in the series.

Hamilton continues to make history in the sport, holding records for the most wins (100), most pole positions (101), and most podium finishes (176).  He has seven World Drivers’ Championship titles, which is a joint record that he shares with the great Michael Schumacher.  He gained his first World Championship in 2008 (with McLaren) and is now the most successful British driver of all time.

On the track, Hamilton is known as one of the most complete drivers.  He has an aggressive driving style, adapts well to variances and changing conditions, and is a consistent driver. Off the track, Hamilton supports activism for combatting racism and increasing diversity in Motorsport.  His passion for this has gained huge support, raised the profile of Formula One and broadened the sport’s following, as well as influencing other areas such as music and fashion.  He also campaigns and supports human rights, environmental/animal rights, UNICEF, and various children’s charities.

Lewis Hamilton has won the ‘BBC Sports Personality of the Year’ twice, with the second time being in 2020.  In the same year, Hamilton was recognised with a Knighthood in the New Year’s Honours.

Nicola Adams

Leeds born Nicola Adams is an iconic name in the modern boxing world, retiring with an undefeated record and holding the WBO female flyweight title.  She broke barriers in 2012 after becoming the first female boxer to become an Olympic champion, and impressively followed this up with another gold at Rio 2016.

Her boxing journey started at the age of 13 with her fighting and winning her first match before going on to win many amateur championships including the Commonwealth and European Games.  Opening the doors for many female boxers so early in her career, she was the first female boxer to ever represent England in 2001.  

Adams became the first British boxer to retain an Olympic title for 92 years when she won gold in the women’s flyweight final in Rio 2016.  In 2019 she was forced to cut her career short and retire due to an eye injury. She is seen as one of the most influential people of African/African-Caribbean descent and is the first openly LGBT person to win a gold in Olympic boxing.  In recognition of her services to boxing, and her unprecedented success, Adams has been awarded both an MBE and an OBE.

Marcus Rashford

Manchester born Marcus Rashford plays as a forward for the Premier Football League club Manchester United, as well as the England National Team.  His football journey started at five years old when he played for his local grassroots team Fletcher Moss Rangers.  His talent and potential was soon recognised as he joined the Manchester United academy system at the age of seven.  Now a professional footballer and committed activist, Rashford is an iconic black British figure.

Scoring two goals in his first-team debut in the UEFA Europa League and then two again three days later in his Premier League debut, Rashford continued to show incredible skill and promise and became the youngest England player to score in his first senior international match.

Rashford is a vocal campaigner against racism and child poverty and is praised for using his platform to advocate societal change.  He became known outside of football in 2020 when he convinced the Government to provide food parcels to families struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Partnering up with ‘Fare Share’, Rashford ensured over 3.7 million school children received meals each week.  He has also supported and donated to numerous charities helping raise millions of pounds to help fight homelessness and child poverty. He is a role model and inspiration to football fans, and young people in general, and deserves to be celebrated for his achievements both on and off the pitch.

Kadeena Cox

Kadeena Cox is a Sprinter and Cyclist who has had huge success since joining both the Para Athletics and Para Cycling teams in 2015 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Her diagnosis came suddenly following a stroke when she was just 21 years old.  Growing up Cox was always active competing in hockey, dance, and athletics.

She won gold in her first ever international competition, winning the T37 100m at the Athletics World Championships.  

Cox had her most successful competition in 2016 at the Rio Olympics, winning three medals in athletics.  She also completed a remarkable achievement in Rio by claiming a gold medal in cycling with victory in the time trial and becoming the first British Paralympian for 32 years to win medals in two different sports.  

In the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Cox retained her C4-5 time trial cycling gold medal in style setting a new world record, beating the previous record by 0.411 seconds.  She has been awarded an MBE for her services to sport.   Off the track, Cox promotes Para Sport through TV and social media to help inspire the next generation of athletes.

Denise Lewis

Known as one of the ‘Golden Girls’ of athletics, Denise Lewis has been named ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ several times by Sports Journalists’ Association, British Athletics Writers’ Association, and The Sunday Times (1994-2000).  In 2001 she received an OBE, having already been appointed MBE in the 1999 New Year Honours, and became the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards (BEDSA) in 2015.

Competing in the heptathlon in Track & Field Athletics, Lewis won gold at the Sydney Olympics.  She was the first European to win the gold medal in this event.  She has twice been Commonwealth Games Champion, European Champion and won a silver medal at the World Championships.  

Born in West Bromwich to Jamaican born parents, Lewis has definitely inspired the next generation of athletes.  Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson have named Lewis as an inspiration and influence on them growing up.  Both Ennis-Hill and Johnson-Thompson have won Gold on the World Stage and are the only two British Athletes to have now scored a higher number of points in the heptathlon than Lewis.  These athletes deserve to be celebrated too, and let’s hope this list of outstanding British athletes continues! Lewis has spent the last 10 year as a pundit for the BBC and sharing her expert knowledge covering athletics.  She supports charities close to her heart, and advocates everyone leading fit and healthy lifestyles.  Lewis is also President of the Commonwealth Games England.

Clive Sullivan

An ex-military man, Clive Sullivan, broke racial barriers by not only being rugby league’s first black captain, but the first black captain of any British sports team!

1972 was the year Sullivan first captained the Great British Lions, and for context, it wasn’t until 1978 that the first black player even represented England at senior football level.

The speedy winger from Cardiff was a legend in Hull, scoring 250 tries in 350 games for Hull FC, and scoring 118 tries in 213 games for Hull Kingston Rovers.  He also had a brief stint at Oldham and Doncaster before returning to Hull FC to become part of the coaching staff.

Sullivan overcame a lot to play professional rugby, having multiple operations on his knees, shoulders, and feet as a child – doctors were unsure if he’d be able to walk properly.  Although injury prone, he played for over two decades, playing in 3 World Cup finals, lifting the trophy in the year he captained the side, winning the Challenge Cup for both Hull teams, and he was awarded an MBE for services to rugby league.

After Sullivan unexpectedly died of cancer in 1985, aged just 42, the City of Hull had a section of its main road between the Humber Bridge and the city centre (the A63) renamed ‘Clive Sullivan Way’ in his honour. He has since been described as a trail blazer, a “pioneer in the social history of British sport“.