Four of America’s Most Influential Black Athletes

In honor of Black History Month, I want to recognize some of the most impactful African American leaders who are making a difference through their careers and lifestyle.

These men and women have not only made a name for themselves in the sports arena, but possess leadership qualities that take them to the next level.

This context is important; leaders in the sports world must have the ability to work under immense pressure. They are consistently exposed to challenging situations that demand flexibility and wisdom. Each one of these leaders brings unique tactics to the table that help them create stronger cultures. 

Here are four black athletes who have changed the game with their leadership: 

1. LeBron James

“I think, team first. It allows me to succeed, and it allows my team to succeed.”

Many people know of LeBron James’s greatness on the basketball court, but his leadership approach shows there is a lot to learn from him off the court as well. He is the definition of a team player. James  leads every team he is on and has the ability to rally his peers, driving towards one goal. Before each season, James articulates his vision for the team and shares his belief in each individual. Vision is essential, but individual encouragement can boost progress. Amid failure, James proactively responds and makes the necessary changes. He doesn’t let setbacks discourage him or stop him; he uses them to make himself and his team better. This “team first” attitude has opened the doorway for both individual and collaborative success. In 2018 the LeBron James Foundation opened the “I Promise School,” a public elementary school in Akron, Ohio. His vision for excellence is far more than a basketball skill that helps his team make the best play –– James’s philanthropic efforts are blazing a new path for leaders across the professional spectrum to aspire to.

2. Serena Williams 

“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.”  

Serena Williams is not only a champion on the tennis court, but in life. She has won 23 Grand Slam Titles and is the former world No.1 player. Williams is hard-working, dedicated and has broken countless records. Williams is known for her mental strength, focus and determination. Those qualities were put to the test In 2007, when Williams had to take a step back from the game due to recurring injuries. Throughout her recovery, she struggled both mentally and physically, but chose to persevere through it all. An essential part of progress is choosing to adopt a growth mindset. Williams did not see her injuries as a failure, but an opportunity to persist and grow as a person. She often talks about the importance of “reevaluating and reinventing” oneself. As leaders, we should always be growing and evolving, and Serena Williams is an incredible example of that principle.

 3. Tiger Woods 

“No matter how good you get, you can always get better…and that’s the exciting part.”

Tiger Woods has owned the world of golf like no other. He has won 15 major titles, 16 World Golf Championships, and was the youngest golfer to ever win the “Grand Slam.” Woods did not settle when he began winning tournaments. He was determined to work harder and play better. Even when he was at the top of the leaderboard, Woods chose to seek counsel from coaches and improve his game. His work ethic is one of the greatest leadership qualities he possesses. In 2009, amid turmoil in his personal life, Woods’ career took a significant turn. Over the next decade, his career was marked by injuries that included four back surgeries between 2014 and 2017, leading many pundits to speculate that the world had seen the best of Tiger Woods. Between August 2015 and January 2018, Woods competed in only one tournament, but in September 2018, he won the Tour Championship. “The Tiger Effect,” the theory that PGA Tour players perform eight strokes worse when Woods is playing than when he’s not, seemed to be making a comeback.  He continued to make steady progress that culminated in his first major win in 11 years at the 2019 Masters. Woods was persistent in his practice and strived to become better each day. One leadership lesson we can learn from Woods is that persistence and consistency are keys you need to have during turbulent times.  

4. Simone Biles 

 “I’d rather regret the risks that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all.”

Simone Biles is known as the best gymnast of all time and has won the hearts of people with her personality and strength. She has won 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, making her the most decorated American gymnast. One leadership lesson we can learn from her is to learn how to take calculated risks. Each time she competes, she chooses to attempt something brave, even in the face of failure. This courage has led her to make history and land moves like the “triple double,” which had never been landed by a woman. Not only does Biles use this in competition, but in her leadership style as well. Simone is a vocal leader, standing up for issues that matter to her. As a sexual abuse survivor, she has been a fierce advocate for fellow survivors. She has spoken up on many occasions when she is unhappy with the USA Gymnastics leadership, which has resulted in a remarkable change. For leaders, learning to take risks can be extremely challenging, and in many cases, even nerve-wracking. But, high risk has the potential for high reward, which results in great impact. 

I believe these are individuals whose influence extends beyond the sports world. Each one of these leaders is a wonderful example of hard work that pays off. Whether or not they are number one on the scoreboard, their leadership lifestyles will continue to make an impact on generations to come.