James “Cool Papa” Bell Jackie Robinson made history when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, but as blacks began joining the big leagues, it was too late for many former Negro League legends. One such player was James “Cool Papa” Bell, who was reportedly offered a chance to play in the big leagues in 1951, but turned it down because he was 48. Widely regarded as one of the fastest players in baseball history, the outfielder began his career in 1922 at age 19 with the St. Louis Stars, and would play for several other teams during his quarter-century career. Although Negro League statistics were notoriously unreliable, BaseballLibrary.com credits Bell with once stealing 175 bases in a 200-game season; he also reportedly had several seasons with a batting average over .400. Bell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Lynette Woodard became the first woman to join the famous Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. Around the same time, Cheryl Miller became one of the most decorated high school and collegiate women’s basketball players in history, leading the U.S. team to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. In 1986, Debi Thomas became the first black woman to win the U.S. figure skating singles championship; she was also the world champion that year, as well as a bronze medalist at the 1988 Winter Olympics.