Barrier Breaking


Tyler Evans and Aiden Sykeny

In celebration of Black History Month in February, The Viking Views highlights four amazing athletes who overcame adversity and broke racial barriers, in turn paving the way for future generations,

Satchel Paige

Leroy “Satchel” Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1906 and like many kids growing up, he dreamed of playing baseball when he was older. Paige loved baseball but didn’t receive any type of real practice or training until he was 13 when he was arrested for shoplifting. As a result, he had to stay in the Alabama Reform School until the age of 18. This seemed like an obvious terrible thing for Paige but this is where his march toward the big leagues started. Reverend Moses Davis, who was also a trustee of the school, worked with the kids to learn and improve in the game of baseball during their time in the school. Paige showed off his strong arm and Davis helped shape him into the pitcher he’d soon become. Davis was the first to teach Paige his big leg kick in his windup which would end up being very famous. During this time Paige improved a lot and just a short time after his release, he would sign his first of many professional contracts. Paige would go on to play for many Negro League teams including the Chattanooga Black Lookouts where he would get his start in 1926. 22 years later Paige would become the second player, and first in the American League, to integrate Major League Baseball. At age 42, Satchel made his debut for the Cleveland Indians officially breaking the color barrier in the American League. He would play for many years after that, finally calling it a career at the age of 59. During this stretch, Paige was able to win a World Series with Cleveland and was named to multiple all-star teams. Later on, in 1971, he would be the first player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the committee on Negro Baseball Leagues.


Jesse Owens

In 1913, James “Jesse” Owens was born in Oakville, Alabama. By the age of nine, Owens and his family moved to Cleveland, OH during the Great Migration to find better opportunities for him and his family. On Owens’ first day of school in Cleveland, his teacher asked him what name he would like to be called. Owens replied saying he would like to be called “J.C.” but due to his strong southern accent, she thought he said Jesse, and the name stuck. Jesse found his love for running in junior high with the help of his coach, Charles Riley. Owens shined at the National High School Championship where he would match the 100-meter dash and long jump world records. Jesse’s impressive performances in high school earned him the opportunity to run at The Ohio State University. During this time Owens dominated the competition and won eight individual National Championships which was a college record. During this time though, Owens had to deal with lots of adversity. Owens had to live off campus due to the color of his skin and when the team traveled, he couldn’t eat at many of the restaurants his teammates ate at or even stay in the same hotel. On top of that, Owens did not receive any type of scholarship for running even though he was one of the best runners in the country due to the color of his skin. These events however did not make Owens lose his focus and in 1936 he was set to compete at arguably the most controversial Olympics of all time. The 1936 Summer Olympic games were set for August and there were lots of talks of the USA potentially boycotting the games due to it being held in Berlin, Germany and opened by Adolph Hilter. At the time, the Nazi-Germany regime was on the rise and many in the US obviously did not agree with their ideas. Despite the push to skip the games, Owens and Team USA took off for Berlin. Here, Owens left his mark on the world of track and field where he would take home four gold medals at the games for Team USA.


Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was an American track and field athlete who overcame numerous obstacles to become one of the most accomplished sprinters in history. Rudolph was born into a 22-child family but there was something a little different about her than the others. Rudolph was born prematurely and afflicted with many diseases as a child including scarlet fever and polio. With this, she was able to fight polio but lost most of the strength she had in her legs forcing her to wear leg braces for years. She was told by doctors that she may never walk again. With that news, Rudolph and her family sought medical help and went to Meharry Medical College to try to regain her ability to walk correctly. Through sheer determination and the support of her family, she not only walked but also became an athlete. Throughout middle school and high school Rudolph was a standout at basketball where she would even break the scoring record at her school. On the basketball court is where Tennessee State track coach Ed Temple saw Rudolph playing and he immediately knew that she was a natural athlete. A short time after Temple saw Rudolph play, he offered her a spot on the Tennessee State track team. In the 1960 Olympics, Rudolph won three gold medals, breaking world records in the process. Wilma became a symbol of hope and inspiration for people around the world. After retiring from competitive athletics, Rudolph dedicated herself to education and community service, working as a teacher and mentor for young people. Her life achievements continue to inspire generations of athletes and activists.


Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson was a trailblazing athlete who broke barriers in the world of sports and left a mark on the history of tennis. In 1927, Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina, but spent most of her childhood in Harlem, New York City. Gibson discovered a love for tennis at a young age and mainly played on the public courts of New York City, despite facing discrimination as a Black woman in a predominantly white sport. Gibson’s early years were marked by financial hardship and limited opportunities for Black athletes, but she persevered and eventually caught the attention of Dr. Robert W. Johnson, a Black physician who also served as her mentor and coach. Under Johnson’s guidance, Gibson’s talents flourished, and she began to compete in amateur tournaments. In 1950, Gibson became the first Black athlete to compete in the U.S. National Championships. Over the next several years, she won numerous titles, including the French Open in 1956, Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, and the U.S. Open in 1957 and 1958. Gibson’s success on the court was groundbreaking, not only because she was a Black woman in a predominantly white sport, but also because she was a trailblazer for other athletes of color.