Identify and discuss some of the African Americans who have made important contributions to American sport history.
Mohammed Ali had a very high profile so is worth consideration because his influence was global. Previously known as Cassius Clay, he changed his name when he changed his religion. Many people remember his expert light footwork, humourous interviews and commitment to excellence in training. He put on the persona ,however, of appearing very vain!
For a British view, the most famous athlete that fits this category from our point of view is Jesse Owens for the way that he defied Hitler and became a symbol of tolerance and anti-racial prejudice. This of course became very important in the light of the increased agression shown by Hitler in his foreign policy in the run up to World War II.
Naturally, Jackie Robinson comes to mind immediately. A former UCLA star who won letters in four sports, Robinson in 1942 became a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army, though he never saw action in World War II. After a short career in the Negro League, Robinson was hand-picked by Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey to become the first African-American to enter baseball's Major Leagues--thus breaking the color barrier. He endured many racial hardships during his early stay, but he also became one of the biggest stars in the National League.
The most obvious example of an African American who has contributed to American sports history is Jackie Robinson. He is, of course, famous for having been the first African American to play baseball in the major leagues. He is much more famous than the people to break the color barriers in football or basketball since baseball was so much more important of a sport back in those days.
Another important name would be Jesse Owens. His wins in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin were very important to America's self-image as a tolerant country (as opposed to the intolerance of Nazi Germany).
Finally, I would point to people like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They were symbols of the changes in the roles of African Americans in society and in sports in the 1960s. By taking Muslim names and by being more outspoken about issues of race, they broke away from the role of the self-effacing, modest black person that had been forced on earlier black athletes.