There were hundreds if not thousands of sports stories this year that resonated with readers, what with no shortage of sporting events despite the everpresent and persistent COVID-19 pandemic that went above and beyond its call of duty by postponing, rescheduling and all-out canceling too many athletic contests around the world.
Together, they are responsible for NewsOne’s list of the Blackest sports moments of 2021 in photos.
What makes something “Black” or the “Blackest,” you ask? Keep reading to find out.
One byproduct of the pandemic has been a purported reckoning on race around the globe, a movement that crossed over into the sporting world last year with such instances as tennis champion Naomi Osaka donning face masks emblazoned with the names of Black people whose deaths were attempted to be covered up by local law enforcement agencies.
There was also the professional basketball teams and players who collectively kneeled before playing on a court that bore the words “Black Lives Matter” during the NBA’s so-called “bubble” season that helped raise awareness of racist police brutality — the same issue that got Colin Kaepernick banished from the NFL a few years earlier.
In the calendar year of 2021, the intersection of sports and race revealed itself in several different forms as athletes did their part to push the struggle forward as a way to help the overall cause.
One of those ways was for Major League Baseball (MLB), which has recently drawn headlines for its lack of outreach to Black American players, to defiantly move the location of the 2021 all-star game away from the state of Georgia, which implemented voting restrictions decried as “racist” that have effectively made it harder to cast ballots for Black and brown people, in particular.
The 2020 Olympics, which were rescheduled to the summer of 2021, was also a major opportunity for athletes on a global stage to make certain statements (even if they were not permitted by the International Olympic Committee…)
But, of course, there isn’t necessarily a need to make a statement in order to have what NewsOne considers one of the many Blackest moments in sports of the year. It could also be defined by a gesture, an attitude, or maybe something else that is unexplainable aside from its Blackness.
In other words, Blackness and what constitutes something being “Black” cannot readily be defined and instead is more of a vibe than anything else. Don’t believe us? Keep reading and scroll down to find 10 examples of that truth while you enjoy the Blackest moments of 2021 in photos. Spoiler alert: One of the moments is immortalized in video form.
Let us know which ones we forgot.
1. Simone Biles at Tokyo Olympics
Source:Getty Simone Biles competed on her own terms during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer. When she announced a temporary hiatus to prioritize her mental health, the person who is widely recognized as the greatest gymnast of all time regardless of gender was met with the type of derision routinely showered upon Black women who don’t do what the white world wants them to.
So what did Biles do? She came back and added two more medals to her Olympics trophy case.
Absent of a middle finger to her critics, this photo of Biles standing in her B-Girl stance speaks volumes and is unapologetically Black.
2. HBCU upsets in NCAA hoops tournament
Source:Getty The Texas Southern University Tigers and Norfolk State University Spartans won their respective “First Four” games, creating another historic “first” in the process.
It was the first time in NCAA Tournament history that a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and a team from the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) won games in the same tournament. Both MEAC and the SWAC are comprised entirely of HBCUs and there were no other HBCU teams in this year’s tournament.
This photo shows Norfolk State’s Joe Bryant Jr. reacting after making a 3-pointer against the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the First Four round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament held at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on March 18, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.
3. Sha’Carri Richardson shocks the world
Sha’Carri Richardson dazzled track and field fans with a time of 10.86 seconds at the women’s 100-meter race trials in Eugene, Oregon, on June 18. The image of her orange hair, colorful and lengthy fingernails and an array of body art was one of the most unapologetically Black photos of the year.
Here, Richardson is pictured after competing in the first round of the Women’s 100 Meter during day one of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field.
4. Sports world mourns Daunte Wright
The sports world paused on April 11 after the police shooting death of Daunte Wright was reported. Since-convicted former police officer Kim Potter purportedly mixed up her gun and Taser before firing the fatal shot into the chest of the unarmed 20-year-old Black man who had been pulled over for a pretextual traffic stop before it was determined he had a warrant for his arrest.
The nature of the shooting — which came right in the middle of Derek Chauvin’s murder trial for killing George Floyd — was so egregious that it prompted sports leagues around the world to offer gestures in solidarity.
That includes this photo of the NBA’s Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs players and coaches locking arms in a tribute to Wright prior to their game at Amway Center on April 12 in Orlando, Florida.
5. Gwen Berry’s national anthem moment
World-class hammer-thrower Gwen Berry refused to acknowledge the American flag during the playing of the national anthem as she accepted a bronze medal following U.S. Olympic track and field trials in June.
Berry, who is also an activist, was shown during the medal ceremony on Saturday at the Olympic trials in Oregon looking uncomfortable while the “Star-Spangled Banner” played over the loudspeaker. That prompted her to grab a black T-shirt with “Activist Athlete” printed on it and place it over her head — all while her hand was on her hip.
Berry later said: “The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
6. Soccer’s anti-racism movement
As anti-Black racism continues to permeate the sport of soccer in European professional leagues, so do its growing number of Black players who have been doing their part to confront and stem the racist hatred.
That was clear and apparent on Oct. 10 when Belgium teammates Michy Batshuayi and Axel Witsel kneeled during the UEFA Nations League Third Place Playoff match between Italy and Belgium at Juventus Stadium in Italy, which has gained a reputation for anti-Black racial discrimination.
7. Naomi Osaka lighting the Olympic cauldron
It was impossible to ignore the irony of Naomi Osaka, who is half Haitian, carrying the Olympic torch and lighting the Olympic cauldron with it in Japan, which has struggled to confront its problem with anti-Black racism.
The photo of Osaka lighting the cauldron was at once unapologetically Black — what with her brown skin and long, bright red braids — while also sending a message to her country that she is its future.
8. HBCU football goes mainstream?
This isn’t a photo, but it is arguably the most important “Black” moment in sports of the entire year, considering the implications behind the nation’s top high school football recruit choosing to play for an HBCU and hall of fame Deion Sanders at Jackson State University.
Hunter’s decision to attend an HBCU could prove to be transformative first to college football and then to college athletics in general.
9. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls out unvaccinated NBA players
Responding to the report of holdouts among NBA players who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke in no uncertain terms about their “arrogance” and what he described as hypocrisy when it comes to following guidance from health professionals.
“There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research,” Abdul-Jabbar said at the time.
In a professional sports league that is nearly three-quarters Black, Kareem’s words of wisdom proved prophetic as the NBA copes with teams’ outbreaks that have been tempered by players getting vaccinated.
10. Celebration of the Negro Leagues
MLB dedicated much of the 2021 season to the celebration of the Negro Leagues as professional baseball looks to honor its diverse roots instead of shunning it like in previous years.
Pictured: Ron Teasley, left, listens to Pedro Sierra, during a Detroit Tigers celebration of the Negro Leagues before a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park on July 31, 2021, in Detroit.
Teasley played for the Negro Leagues’ Motor City Giants of Detroit and Sierra played the Indianapolis Clowns.
Honoring the ancestors is a tried and true tradition in the Black community.
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