Really, America? Our list of the 50 Greatest Black Athletes is flawed, but it’s on you
Jordan ahead of Ali? Gabby Douglas over Althea Gibson? What were you thinking?
No Tommie Smith, John Carlos or Althea Gibson on a list of history’s 50 greatest black athletes. You read that right.
Simone Biles, bless her 4-foot-9 pixie heart, at No. 8?!
Stephen Curry ranking ahead of LeBron James? Kobe Bryant excluded?
And the ultimate insult — a man who invented the term “Greatest of All Time,” Mr. Societal Impact and Inspiration himself, Muhammad Ali, at No. 3?
Today, we at The Undefeated — along with our pollster perpetrators SurveyMonkey and a cross section of 10,000-plus American voters — have committed outright blasphemy. In unveiling the final 10 selections of our list of the Top 50 Black Athletes, we have barely acknowledged or failed to mention some of the most deserving sporting deities of the past two centuries.
But, The Undefeated being the kind of responsible, accountable website that fesses up to being part of the problem, I can honestly say none of us here had a vote.
Nope. We turned this baby over to an established data-collection gatherer. SurveyMonkey has done work for Facebook, Virgin America and Kraft Foods, among others. (So now you know who to blame for Star Wars-shaped mac and cheese.)
But seriously, I’m going to let SurveyMonkey off the hook on this one because, in general, we the media never shoot the messenger.
No, this is on you, people.
You either don’t consider Tiger Woods black or you don’t like to include anyone who’s publicly admitted to infidelity — and/or had to hire lawyers to exonerate themselves. Hence, Kobe Bryant not making the list.
Gabby Douglas at No. 9 was a flat-out stunner. I like Simone and Gabby. No, I ❤ Simone and Gabby. But this wasn’t a list titled “Greatest Black Women 20-and-Under to Tumble, Twist, Leap and Steal Your Heart in NBC Olympic Prime Time.”
This was the crème de la crème, the coup de grace — the greatest of all time.
Herschel Walker at No. 34? Herschel is not even in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A Chicago Tribune 2010 list of the Top 100 football players of all time did not include him. But yet, on our list, he is somehow two spots ahead of Bill Russell and four spots ahead of Arthur Ashe, who only went to South Africa to protest apartheid in the early 1980s.
Now, I get it’s also not a list of “The 50 Greatest Black Social Justice Warriors.” Yet a hefty percentage of every selection was determined by impact on society and inspiration.
Ali, the Black Superman, was No. 5 in inspirational rankings and No. 8 in impact rankings. Willie Mays, “The Say Hey Kid,” was No. 4 on our list, which sounds a little high but not insane. Mays might have been my first childhood idol, but he is somehow listed at No. 2 in both inspiration and impact. Unless Tim Kurkjian or Buster Olney is influencing the vote, I don’t think that’s possible.
You knew any list where just 50 make the cut would generate healthy debate and a few uncivil arguments.
You can’t go totally wrong with Michael Jordan topping any poll of any kind — be it Best Underwear Salesman, Coolest Signature Shoe Line of All Time or Creaky-Kneed Veterans Who Were Way Too Hard on Kwame Brown. Still, Mike above Ali, when a fifth of the percentage that goes into such decision features Impact on Society?
Nuh-uh. Not here.
The race and gender breakdown mirrored American society: 51 percent female, 49 percent male. Forty-one percent of respondents had a high school education or less, while 31 percent had some college and 28 percent had college or more.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents were white, 12 percent were black, 10 percent were Hispanic and the final 10 percent were other nonwhite races. (The nation is 63 percent white and 13 percent black, according to the last census.)
I know what you’re thinking. Having almost 70 percent white people and just 12 percent black people pick history’s 50 Greatest Black Athletes feels a little odd. But I’m not going to put this all on race. That’s too easy.
The distribution of respondents by age was pretty even (18- to 24-year-olds accounted for 13 percent; 25-34: 18 percent; 35-44: 17 percent; 45-54: 17 percent; 55-64: 16 percent; 65-plus: 19 percent). So my concerns could easily be generational. One of the worst habits of people over 50 is we try to convince others they should like something because we like something. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s an old screwball comedy like Arthur, marinated eggplant or Marcin Gortat’s game. If you don’t like things I like, something must be wrong with you.
But even if I were to throw away that prejudicial gauge for this poll, I do believe some important people have been left off the list. Beyond Smith, Carlos and Gibson, Larry Doby, Bob Gibson, Deion Sanders, Jack Johnson, Frank Robinson and Lisa Leslie warranted more consideration.
Same goes for Alice Coachman, Debi Thomas, Cathy Freeman, Bob Beamon, Bob Hayes and Henry Armstrong — many of whom you may not have heard of because, well, we’re lousy at teaching future generations what genuinely equals greatness.
If I were to pick five who should not have made the cut, I’d remove Walker, Barry Sanders, Tim Duncan and, yes, Douglas and Biles. Now, maybe in another 10 years, I’d consider the last two. But being old and nostalgic and wondering why in the world the two men who won gold and bronze in 1968 and had the courage to raise the black power salute while The Star-Spangled Banner blared — or why a pioneer like Althea Gibson, who made the world of Serena and Venus possible — were also left off, I’d probably go with Dominique Dawes.
But, hey, far be it from me to be the sole arbitrator. While I emotionally skew 16, I am 53, white, and believe more in pioneers than first-time Olympians.
Oh, and if the Monkey wants to debate, I’m all in.