Pittsburgh’s Sports Icons: Black athletes who shaped history

In the Steel City, where sports hold a revered place in the hearts of its residents, there’s a vibrant history of Black athletes who’ve left an indelible mark on the city’s sports landscape.

These individuals, past and present, have excelled on the field and used their platform to bring attention to social injustices and advocate for change.

Let’s celebrate the Black athletes who’ve made their mark on Pittsburgh’s sports scene and whose legacies continue to inspire us today.


Honoring the Legacy of Past Black Athletes


Many of the greatest Black athletes in Pittsburgh’s history have achieved national and even international success. Keep reading to learn more about notable Black athletes from Pittsburgh’s past.

Josh Gibson: The Home Run King of the Negro Leagues


In the early 20th century, Josh Gibson, often called the “Black Babe Ruth,” was a baseball legend. His incredible power at the plate made him an icon in the Negro Leagues and beyond. Despite the racial challenges he faced, Gibson’s legacy remains larger than light, illuminating the path for future Black baseball players.



Satchel Paige: A Pitching Legend


Leroy “Satchel” Paige was a true pitching legend. His skills and charisma drew crowds wherever he played; his arrival in Pittsburgh to play for the Homestead Grays electrified the city. Paige’s journey from the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball was a testament to his talent and resilience, as he became one of the first Black pitchers to break the color barrier.

Roberto Clemente: A Humanitarian and Baseball Great


Roberto Clemente was more than just a baseball player; he was a humanitarian. His impact on and off the field reverberated throughout Pittsburgh and beyond. As a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente’s legacy is deeply woven into the city’s fabric.

Willie Stargell: A Six-Time All-Star and World Series MVP


Willie Stargell, affectionately known as “Pops,” was a beloved figure in Pittsburgh. His leadership and powerful presence on the field helped lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to multiple championships, including their iconic win in the 1979 World Series.

Jerome Bettis: A Two-Time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion


Jerome Bettis, also known as “The Bus,” made a significant impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers during his career. He was a force to be reckoned with on the field, earning multiple Pro Bowl selections and helping the Steelers secure a Super Bowl victory (Super Bowl XL in 2006).

Franco Harris: A Four-Time Super Bowl Champion and Pittsburgh Legend


Franco Harris is a Pittsburgh legend who left an indelible mark on the city and its sports history. His iconic Immaculate Reception, during which he caught a deflected pass and ran it in for a touchdown, is one of the most memorable plays in NFL history.


The contributions of Black athletes in Pittsburgh’s sports history have been monumental. Their stories of breaking barriers, achieving greatness, and giving back to the community continue to inspire and uplift. Their legacies are reminders that Pittsburgh’s sports history is a collaborative journey built on boldness, knowledge, and the pursuit of equality and justice.


Celebrating the Success of Today’s Black Athletes

The tradition of Black athletic excellence continues in Pittsburgh today. Najee Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back, is carrying on the legacy of Black athletes who have made their mark in Pittsburgh’s sports history. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler and was named the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2021.


But Harris isn’t the only athlete making his mark. Here are just a few examples of other Black athletes who are amplifying Pittsburgh’s sports history:

  • Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety and two-time All-Pro
  • Diontae Johnson, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver and two-time Pro Bowler
  • Cameron Heyward, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive lineman and three-time Pro Bowler


In Pittsburgh, sports and the community go hand in hand. Black athletes have made significant contributions on the field and have used their platform to enact positive change and give back to the community, further shaping Pittsburgh’s sports history narrative.

Duquesne Light Co., in its commitment to community empowerment and innovation, proudly celebrates these remarkable individuals’ past and present contributions.


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