Then and Now: Here’s The Latest On The Most Influential Black Athletes From The 80s


September 20, 2022

What are the greats up to these days?

The 1980s was a time when a prolific number of Black athletes began to surface and excel; they were an inspiration to many and transformed the sports world as we know it. We’re listing Black athletes from various sports that have made a huge impact on the community and are continuing to do so in their retirement.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Retired track and field athlete, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, is ranked amongst the all-time greatest athletes and is notorious for her performance in the heptathlon and long jump. Joyner-Kersee was always a determined athlete from childhood to her professional career; dabbling in multiple sports like basketball and volleyball, she became a well-rounded athlete before she became a professional. In 1981, she began training for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games where she won a silver medal and placed fifth in the long jump. In 1986, she became the first woman to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event. By 1988, she married her coach, Bob Kersee, and was officially Mrs. Jackie Joyner-Kersee! She entered the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea and earned gold medals in both events, as well as setting an Olympic record. She was the first American woman to earn a gold medal in long jump and a gold medal in the heptathlon. 


Now, Joyner-Kersee is a philanthropist in children’s education, racial equality, and women’s rights. She started a nonprofit, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, to encourage the young people of East St. Louis to pursue athletics and academics. She’s partnered with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to launch the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Innovation Center. This initiative will encourage the youth to pursue agriculture and food science careers.

Carl Lewis

Frederick Carlton Lewis, also known as Carl Lewis, is a Black track athlete whose career lasted from 1979 to 1996! This long-jumper-turned-sprinter is one of only six athletes who have won four consecutive gold medals in an individual Olympic event. Coming from a family of athletes, Lewis dominated the track and field from a young age. He made his big break in 1981 and by 1982, he was setting and breaking new and personal records. He became the fastest 100m sprinter in the world and was ranked number one in the world in both long jump and the 100 meter. His career includes nine Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver medal, and 8 gold out of 10 World Championship medals. 

After hanging up his spikes, he started acting; he starred in Alien Hunter, Material Girls, and many more. He’s also tried running for a seat in the New Jersey Senate but was unsuccessful due to residency requirements. He currently has a company, C.L.E.G, that specializes in marketing and branding.

Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders, also known as “Primetime,” made his break towards the end of the 1980s by playing as a defensive back in the NFL. Sanders also played in the MLB; some days he suited up for MLB and NFL games. He is the only athlete to play in both the Super Bowl and World Series. He was in eight Pro Bowls, received six first-team All-Pros, and made consecutive Super Bowl appearances in Super Bowl XXIX and Super Bowl XXX – he won both! He’s been inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. 

After football, Sanders went on to become a sports analyst for CBS Sports, NFL Network, and Barstool Sports. He served as the offensive coordinator for the football team at his two sons’ high school from 2017 to 2020. He then got hired by HBCU Jackson State University as the football team’s head coach; his sons later joined him at the university. He also recently committed half of his salary to the completion of the Jackson State football facility. 

Sugar Ray Leonard

Former professional boxer “Sugar” Ray Charles Leonard, is referred to as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He is best known for being a part of the “Four Kings.” He went into the ring with some of the toughest fighters: Roberto Durán, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. Leonard has won an Olympic gold medal, world titles in five weight classes, the undisputed welterweight championship, and the lineal championship in three weight classes. Leonard was also the first boxer to earn more than $100 million in prizes and was named “Boxer of the Decade.” In 1981, The Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America named him Fighter of the Year. 


Sugar Ray has retired from his 20-year-career. However, at the age of 65, he is still up and punching knowledge as a motivational speaker. He is also a spokesperson for Skechers! He created the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation with his wife in 2009 to “assist every single child to live a much better life through food and healthy exercise.” His foundation also helps raise money for studies and research into type 1 and type 2 diabetes among youth.

Michael Jordan

Former NBA player, Michael Jordan, was the third pick in the 1984 NBA Draft and has been deemed as the greatest basketball player to date. He was named an All-Star starter during his rookie season, and during his 1988-87 season, he was named NBA Defensive player of the year while also securing his first MVP Award. Overall, He played fifteen seasons in the NBA and won six NBA championships. He was a huge pioneer for the future of basketball. 

After basketball, Jordan opened a medical clinic in his home state and donated the proceeds of his life documentary, The Last Dance, to causes like hunger relief. In 2020, he became the first Black majority owner of a full-time NASCAR Cup Series team. He is currently the owner and CEO of sportswear company, Jordan Brand, who recently partnered with Howard University.



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