SEOUL I’m old enough to remember when it was a big deal when a black person appeared on national television.
The phone in my family’s Philadelphia home would ring off the hook with relatives or friends calling to alert us that Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross & The Supremes, or Flip Wilson were going to be on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Hollywood Palace,” or “The Andy Williams Show” that night.
Erin Jackson, U.S. long track speedskater (Photo/US Speedskating/Alienfrogg).
It was Must-See-TV in the era black and white sets, new-fangled remote controls, rabbit ears antennae, and frozen TV dinners.
New Must-See-TV moments begin Friday night with the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The 242-member U.S. team that will march into South Korea’s PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony will be the most diverse American team in Winter Olympic history.
The U.S. team features a record 10 African-American athletes competing in bobsled, speedskating and ice hockey.
“The fact that you’re seeing black athletes competing at the highest levels, it gives promise to kids, not just the kids, but parents, too,” said Anson Carter, a black retired NationalHockey League forward who’s working the Winter Games as an in-studio analyst for NBC. “So when you turn the TV on and see these stories on NBC about these black athletes competing in the Olympics, and competing at a very high level, that will more likely open some eyes.”
Seventy-five percent of the four-member U.S. women’s bobsled team is black. Led by Elana Meyers Taylor, the team is looking to improve upon the silver and bronze medals medals they won at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
The U.S. men’s bobsled team features Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, a former football star at the University of Virginia College at Wise, and Chris Kinney, a former GeorgetownUniversity track athlete.
Speedskating legend Shani Davis returns for his fourth Winter Olympics. He’s joined by Erin Jackson, the first African-American female U.S. long track speedskating Olympian, and 18-year-old Maame Biney, the first black female U.S. short track Olympic contestant.
Jordan Greenway, a massive and massively-talented forward from Boston University, makes history as the first African-American to play for a U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. Carter is expecting big things from the 6-foot-5, 238-pound junior from Canton, New York.
“You don’t find too many players like him that are big and strong and fast,” Carter told me recently. “I don’t think it’s a token ‘Here, kid, come on to the team, we’re going to give you a chance. We’re going to try to get our black quota of players up just so we can put the story out there.’ That’s not how hockey works.”
“If you’re a black hockey player you have to be really good to play at the next level,” Carter added. “For a guy like Jordan to come and play on that team, that says a lot about his ability, that says a lot about his talent, that says a lot about how much respect he’s getting in the hockey community as a player who could be an impact player at the National Hockey League level.”
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And the diversity in PyeongChang extends beyond the U.S. team. Jamaica is back with a bobsled team – the Caribbean island nation’s first women’s squad. They’ll be joined by the country’s first skeleton athlete.
Nigeria is in the house with its first Winter Olympics participants – a women’s bobsled team and a female skeleton athlete.
Ghana also has an Olympian in skeleton, a sport where athletes zoom face-down on a twisting, frozen concrete track.
I’m in South Korea this month covering the 2018 Winter Olympics for McClatchy Newspapers. In addition, you’ll be able to catch me occasionally on NPR. I’ll be talking Winter Olympics with host Michel Martin this Sunday on NPR’s “All ThingsConsidered” weekend edition.
So give a read and a listen. In the meantime, here are some of the folks who are adding a splash of color to the Winter Olympics.
Just 18 years old, Maame Biney is the United States’ first black female Olympic short track speedskater.
Erin Jackson skated into the history books when she became the first African-American woman to qualify for the Winter Olympics in long track speedskating (Photo/US Speedskating John Kleba).
The U.S. Women’s Bobsled National Team. Left to Right, Kehri Jones, Brittany Reinbolt, Aja Evans, Lauren Gibbs, Elana Meyers Taylor, Jamie Greubel Poser, Lolo Jones, and Briauna Jones. Evans, Gibbs, Meyers Taylor, and Greubel Poser will operate two U.S. bobsleds at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Briauna Jones will be a backup in PyeongChang (Photo/Molly Choma/USA Bobsled & Skeleton).
North Carolina’s Kimani Griffin will make his Olympic debut in long track speedskating (Photo/US Speedskating/John Kleba).
Shani Davis is competing in his fourth Winter Olympics. He’s won two gold and two silver medals in his Olympic career. (Photo/Harry E. Walker).
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