I have always been torn when it came to Black History Month.

On one hand, I think the month-long holiday gives educators a built in excuse not to teach students about African-American accomplishments until February. Then, it’s usually glossed over with just basic information.

When I was growing up, BHM in school consisted of Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. It was as if the entirety of a race of people could be summed up in six individuals.

And when students do hear about such luminaries as Frederick Douglas, Malcom X or Medgar Evers, their deeds become devalued because it seems like they only are being discussed because it’s BHM. We don’t hear about them the rest of the year.

Yet, BHM does have its usefulness. It allows stories that normally would never see the light of day in a classroom or on television to be told. Historic tales of men and women that helped change the landscape of not only our society, but also the sports world.

Everyone knows about Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ash, Doug Williams and Tiger Woods. But what about the ones whose accomplishments were nearly erased because of bigotry or have just been forgotten with the passage of time.

They include:

Frederick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard: Pollard was one of the biggest names in football in 1915 as the All-American running back led Brown University to a Rose Bowl championship. He also was one of the first three black players in the NFL and was the league’s first black head coach in the 1920. He wasn’t inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame until 2005.

Major Taylor: During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Taylor was the best cyclist in the world. He was a three-time U.S. Sprint champion.

Oliver Lewis, Isaac Murphy: Lewis won the first-ever Kentucky Derby when he rode Aristides to victory in 1875. Murphy was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys.

Althea Gibson: Gibson became the first African American to enter Wimbledon, playing in 1951, and won the singles and doubles titles in 1957 and 1958. In 1956, she won the French Open.

Josh Gibson: Gibson was one of the greatest hitters in the Negro Leagues. According to his Hall of Fame plaque, he hit almost 800 home runs in his 17-year baseball career, which would put him as the all-time leader in professional baseball. Gibson never played in Major League Baseball.

Debi Thomas: Thomas was the first African American to win a medal in the Winter Olympic Games. At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Thomas won a bronze medal in figure skating.

These are just a small sampling of the sports figures whose names often get lost in history’s pages. And sadly, it takes Black History Month for them and others to get the attention they deserve.

This Week's Circulars