Black History Month: Los Angeles’ two most impactful Black athletes


Credit: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images.

By Mitchell Ross

A sports fan would be hard-pressed not to mention the great Black athletes of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s that broke into segregated American sports, forever changing the sports landscape as the country knew it.

In 2020, sports fans witnessed a completely new era of athlete empowerment when notable stars spoke out against our country’s injustices and our sports leagues. Never before have sports fans saw athletes wielding such immense power in their sports.

In honor of Black History Month, let’s look at two of the most impactful Black athletes in Los Angeles.

Lebron James is known most for his on-court prowess and pure domination of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the last two decades, but James is also a vital part of his community in Akron, Ohio and a voice for changing the NBA.

James opened his I Promise school in 2019 to combat the inequality present in low-income neighborhoods in Ohio. The school district funds the school, but James funds roughly $600k per student through his foundation.

James spoke of the school’s impact in an article in The New York Times.

“When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids,” said James. “Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

James has also impacted the NBA as he was instrumental in the restart of the NBA season last summer.

In an Aug. 2020 news conference on ESPN, James was wearing a Nike hat with the slogan, ‘I am more than an athlete’, as he spoke on how the players are standing up against social injustice in the NBA bubble.

James continues his work toward reforming social injustice in America and inspires players and fans to play well into his late 30s.

Another Black athlete making waves in Los Angeles is Right Fielder for the Dodgers, Mookie Betts.

The 28-year-old superstar is making a name for himself as one of the premier athletes in Major League Baseball. His playoff heroics for the Dodgers put him on the map as one of the best players in all of baseball, according to MLB Network.

Photo via Getty Images
Photo via Getty Images

In baseball, Betts nearly stands alone.

The number of Black athletes in baseball has dwindled over the decades since the high-water mark of nearly 20% in the mid-1980s, according to the research of Mark Armour and Daniel R. Levitt at Sabr Baseball-Reference.

In 2020, Black baseball players made up only 7.7% of the playing field.

Mookie follows in the footsteps of the other great Black ballplayers of baseball’s past. Betts enshrined his place in baseball history along with all-time greats Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas when, in 2018, he became the most recent Black player to win the MVP award.

Betts is also an activist off the field. Following the shocking event of the police abuse of George Floyd, Betts took to Instagram to voice his feelings.

“As I continue to process the recent events, I am reminded that our fight is not over,” began Betts. “We must not get comfortable when the protesting is over, but remain dedicated to our mission; EQUALITY FOR ALL.”

Betts continued to work in his community when he partnered with the Player’s Alliance “Pull Up Neighbor” tour in his hometown of Nashville. The cross-country tour aims to provide support in black communities nationwide and provide necessary COVID relief resources and baseball equipment for the youth.

Both Betts and James know that they can bring communities together with their on-court or on-field play, but they can also heal and improve communities with their work on the streets and neighborhoods.

Black History Month remembers and celebrates the rich history of African Americans in the U.S. and Betts and James are examples of how two great athletes positively impact their communities.