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12 Black Athletes To Watch On And Off The Field Of Play

By Todd Kortemeier | Feb. 26, 2021, 4:21 p.m. (ET)

Tobi Fawehinmi in action during the Men's T47 Long Jump Final at the IPC World Para Athletics Championships 2019 Dubai on Nov. 11, 2019 in Dubai.
 

As Black History Month draws to a close, it’s a good time to remember the contributions of Black Americans are happening all year long.

And in the case of these 12 Black athletes of Team USA, their achievements are happening more than once every four years. Some of these athletes have already competed at the Olympic or Paralympic Games, while others have all the tools to make their mark on sport’s biggest stage very soon. And they’re already making their mark in whatever community they call home.
  

Tobi Fawehinmi, Para track and field
As a high schooler in 2011, Fawehinmi was handed a business card from a track meet official, who told him to look into the Paralympic Games. Fawehinmi didn’t think anything of it. But he did take that look. And the next year, he was on the U.S. Paralympic Team, its youngest member in fact at 16. Fawehinmi is now 25, a two-time Paralympian and 2017 world champion in triple jump.

Grant Holloway, track and field
For a time, Holloway seemed destined for a college football career at a top program. But his dream of being an Olympian kept the sprinter on the track and to the University of Florida, where he won eight national championships. In 2019, he made his world championship debut and left with the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles. Holloway also gives back to the local community, recently leading a youth clinic in Gainesville teaching skills to young runners.

Trevon Jenifer, wheelchair basketball
How many 17-year-olds have enough life experience to fill an autobiography? Jenifer is one, publishing his story of growing up without legs as a result of a congenital amputation and how that didn’t stop him from becoming an elite athlete. When not on the court — where Jenifer is an Olympic gold medalist — he continues to inspire people as a motivational speaker.

Shavon Lockhardt, goalball
Lockhardt got her first taste of international competition in 2019 at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. She and the U.S. lost only the gold-medal match to bring home the silver. That booked the team a spot in this summer’s Paralympic Games.

Noah Malone competes at the men's 100m T12 at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland.
 
 
Noah Malone, Para track and field
2019 was an incredible year for Malone. He became a junior world champion, a Parapan American Games champion and a senior world champion. And that was all before graduating high school. Injury and cancelations due to COVID-19 halted his senior season, but Malone made history in accepting a scholarship to Indiana State University. Malone is believed to be the first legally blind sprinter to receive a Division I scholarship.

Brittni Mason, Para track and field
Mason has been one of the fastest sprinters in the country since she was 11 years old. She was a champion in high school, which earned her a spot on the track team at Eastern Michigan. Born with Erb’s palsy, a condition affecting the nerves in her shoulder and arm, Mason never knew she was even eligible for Para athletics. But she got the chance to try in 2019, and within months was the T46 100-meter world champion.

Weston McKennie, soccer
As a teenager playing in the German Bundesliga, McKennie was already a U.S. soccer prodigy. But then he launched his career into the stratosphere by joining Italian giants Juventus in 2020. McKennie has become a key part of the club, becoming the first American to start a Champions League match for an Italian side. Still just 22, McKennie would be eligible to play for the U.S. team in the Olympic tournament if selected. While playing in Germany with FC Schalke, McKennie made headlines for wearing an armband saying, “Justice for George” in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Sydney McLaughlin, track and field
McLaughlin became the youngest U.S. track Olympian since 1972 when she competed at the 2016 Rio Games. In 2019, the hurdles specialist became a world champion in the 4x400 and a silver medalist in the 400 hurdles. McLaughlin has also become an advocate for social justice, working with fellow Olympians and women of color to start conversations.

Lia Neal, swimming
The song “Empire State of Mind” says that in New York City “there’s nothing you can’t do.” That wasn’t exactly the case for Neal, whose mother had to drive her 45 minutes from their home in Brooklyn just to swim at the one Olympic-size pool in the city. Competing in a historically white sport, Neal became the first Black woman to swim in an Olympic final, winning the bronze medal in the 4x100 free in 2012. Today she is the co-founder of Swimmers for Change, dedicating to educating the swimming community about Black Lives Matter and other ways to support Black communities. 

Nicky Nieves, sitting volleyball
Nieves can’t wait to go after a second gold medal. She was a member of the 2016 U.S. sitting volleyball team that won gold in Rio, and a member of the 2019 team that won 25 matches and didn’t record a single loss. While Nieves and the team wait out the postponed Games, she stays busy with Limitless People Inc., the non-profit organization she founded to increase sitting and standing volleyball opportunities to people everywhere.
Kelsey Stewart rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run at the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 11, 2018 in Chiba, Japan.

 

Kelsey Stewart, softball
It’s been more than two years since the U.S. softball team officially qualified for its sport’s return to the Olympic Games, but Stewart no doubt remembers it like it was yesterday. The former Florida Gator had the walk-off hit that clinched the gold medal at the 2018 world championships to beat Japan and send the U.S. to Tokyo. While waiting out the Games postponement in 2020, Stewart found herself as the leader of a walkout in her pro softball league to raise awareness of social justice.

A’ja Wilson, basketball
Few players have made an impact so quickly in the WNBA as Wilson has. The 2018 first overall draft pick out of South Carolina, Wilson was Rookie of the Year and an All-Star. By 2020, she was league MVP. Wilson has also served on the WNBA’s Social Justice Council and penned a piece for “The Player’s Tribune” in 2020 encouraging young Black girls to be themselves and not allow their experience to be stifled.

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Tobi Fawehinmi

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Grant Holloway

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Trevon Jenifer

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Shavon Lockhardt

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Noah Malone

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Brittni Mason

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Sydney McLaughlin

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Lia Neal

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