Some were visionary. Others were rebellious. All were heroes within their own generations, helping to shape the world we live in today. And the legacies they carried — as athletes, as icons, as civil rights trailblazers and pioneers of progress — gave them distinction among the greatest who’ve ever lived.
They are the Game Changers. The Ground Breakers.
The undefeated Rocky Marciano, who went 49-0 as the heavyweight champion, and Julio Cesar Chavez — “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” — who didn’t lose in his first 90 bouts. Sugar Ray Robinson, the champion of champions in the boxing ring, and the impossible Roberto Duran, who won 103 bouts over 33 years. Joe Louis, Boxing’s greatest had to fight through the glare of the spotlight and the tumult of the times.
Some carried conviction heavy in their hands. The Greatest that ever was, Muhammad Ali — banished by boxing for standing up for his beliefs — had many remarkable numbers in his career. But the 8-0 Supreme Court ruling that exonerated him was the mightiest of those numbers. His hero, Jack Johnson — the “Galveston Giant” — was stronger than the restraints and prejudices of the early 20th century. He was convicted twice under the Mann Act for having an interracial relationship and exonerated over a century later. The numbers ring out through the Mann Act statute: 36 stat, 825.
They were true Ground Breakers, just as Jackie Robinson was in baseball — the first black player to break the major league color barrier in 1947. Or Marshall Taylor, the cyclist who closed out the 19th century by becoming the first black American to win a world championship in any sport. Or of course, the “first lady of civil rights,” the courageous Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat in a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, thus galvanizing a historic action towards equality.
Ground Breakers. Game Changers.
Those who showed that greatness on the field of play was an extension of something much larger. The great Roberto Clemente, who changed baseball between 1955-1972 and gave his life to philanthropy. Walter Payton, the running back who made the game come to him, and became football’s greatest ambassador. Bruce Lee, a cult icon and philosopher, who gave rise to martial arts as the founder of Jeet Kune Do in 1967. Rey Mysterio, the heart of the 619, and Bret “Hitman” Hart, who owned the world of pro wrestling in 1997.
We celebrate the barriers they broke, the voices they raised and the values they stood for; as meaningful today as in their era. In this capsule Roots of Fight celebrates the improbable achievements of today’s most legendary athletes, innovators, and cultural icons, the Game Changers and Ground Breakers whose struggle for greatness is the unending fight at the root of every human triumph.