Comcast SportsNet will be honoring Black History Month with an hour-long special highlighting the careers of influential African-Americans in the sports community. Be sure to tune in February 1 at 7 p.m. for a more detailed account of the athletes/organizations listed below.
Chicago native and University of Illinois alum Aja Evans is making her presence felt in the world of Bobsledding, as she will be competing for the U.S. Olympic team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Evans comes from a family of dedicated athletes as siblings before her all had successful professional careers. Come February she is hopeful she will be able to lead the team to yet another Gold Medal -- a feat that has gone undone since the 2002 Olympic games.
Over a span of seven seasons, former Chicago Bears wide receiver Dennis McKinnon caught 194 passes for 3,012 yards and 22 touchdowns but his best season was in 1988 when he caught 45 passes for 704 yards and three touchdowns while returning 45 punts for 405 yards and a franchise record two touchdowns -- the record was later broken by Devin Hester in 2006. But in the legendary Fog Bowl game, McKinnon caught four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in the 20-12 Bears’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Colorfully known as “Mr.Cub,” Ernie Banks is a former MLB shortstop and first baseman whose career spanned from 1953 to 1971 where he played for only one team: the Chicago Cubs. Banks is a 14-time All-Star, recipient of the coveted Gold Glove Award (1960) and Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (1967), and holds a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame (1977). On March 31, 2008, the Cubs unveiled the Ernie Banks Statue located near the entrance of Wrigley Field.
Willye B. White
U.S. Olympic track and field competitor Willye B. White, was the first American competitor to compete in five Olympic games, 1956-1972. When she was only 16-years old, White took home a Silver Medal in the long jump at the 1956 games in Melbourne, Australia. She then went on to win a Silver Medal in the 4x100 meters at the 1964 games but took home a Gold Medal in the long jump at the 1963 Pan American games. White finished out her career with a Bronze Medal in the long jump at the 1967 Pan American games and soon thereafter was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1981. As a child growing up in Money, Mississippi, a town known for the brutal killing of Emmett Till which was a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, White picked cotton to earn money for her family. But after becoming an athlete, the camaraderie she experienced overshadowed the racism and hatred she experienced as a child. White died of pancreatic cancer in 2007 leaving an undying legacy of prominence behind.
1961 Loyola Men’s Basketball Team
The memories surrounding the year the 1961 Loyola Men’s Basketball team took home the NCAA National Title are ones of determination and desire due to their relentless commitment to compete against the best. The matchup, which later became known as “The Game of Change,” featured four black starters against an all-white Mississippi State team. In order to play, the Mississippi State squad snuck out of their small town, traveling to East Lansing, Michigan where they came up short to the Ramblers who were led by two-time All-American Jerry Harkness. In 2012 both teams were recognized in a ceremony at the White House for their role in this historic game that was critical to integration. The team was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and was also recently enshrined into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard was the first African-American to play in the Rose Bowl in 1915 and later became the first African-American head coach in the NFL. After a successful career at Brown University, he went on to simultaneously play and coach from 1921 to 1928 where he made strenuous efforts to have the ban lifted against players of color in the NFL, but this did not begin to happen until after World War II in 1946. Pollard passed away in 1986, three years shy of seeing the first African-American modern day NFL head coach Art Shell named to the Oakland Raiders. On February 5, 2005, Pollard was selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame where his grandson received the honor in his place.
After leading Marshall’s girls basketball team to over 900 victories since her coaching debut in 1975 and now in her 40th season, Dorothy Gaters become the third girls’ basketball coach to receive the Morgan Wooten Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She has produced 18 high school All-Americans and five WNBA players including former Rutgers Big East Player of the Year Cappie Pondexter, who in the summer of 2008 was a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team that won the Gold Medal in Beijing, China. She is also the winningest basketball head coach -- for girls and boys -- in Illinois state history. Gaters is a pioneer for African-American women in high school basketball and has eight IHSA State Championships to prove it.
Chicago Golden Gloves Boxers
The Chicago Golden Gloves Champion title is one of the most prestigious honors in all of boxing. Some of the former champions include Cassius Clay (’59, ’60), later known as Muhammed Ali, Joe Louis (’34), Sonny Liston (’53) and numerous US Olympians like LeeRoy Murphy ('80), Montel Griffin ('92), Donnell Nicholson ('92), Nate Jones ('96), David Diaz ('96), and Michael Bennett ('00). Every year Chicago Golden Gloves Charities sends a championship team to the National Golden Gloves Championships while providing scholarship money to standout boxers and donating equipment to local boxing gyms and the Chicago Park District.
Frank Edward Thomas Jr. is a former first baseman and designated hitter for four MLB teams but his most impressive stint was with the Chicago White Sox from 1990-2005. Nicknamed “The Big Hurt,” Thomas is a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and was just recently inducted into the prominent Baseball Hall of Fame. After announcing his retirement in 2009, the Chicago White Sox retired his No. 35 jersey the following year and later unveiled a life-size bronze statue on the outer concourse of U.S. Cellular Field in the summer of 2011.
Founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters is a name celebrated in African-American sports history. After their first game in Hinckley, Illinois the “Globe Trotters” name was born and through the guidance of Abe Saperstein, Harlem became their home city seeing that it was considered the center of African-American culture. The team traveled both domestically and internationally to compete against people of all races around the world. They made their first big screen debut in 1951 in a self-titled feature film that included actual game footage. Legendary NBA Champion Wilt Chamberlain also played with the Globetrotters and became the first to have his jersey retired in March of 2000. The team is still going strong to date, touring around the world and recently launched the Summer Skills Camp located at 24-hour fitness centers across the country.