Celebrating Black History Month

The Ohio State department of athletics joins in honoring its past and present African-American student-athletes, coaches and staff members throughout each year and during Black History Month in February. Please check back to this page throughout the month as we periodically add more student-athletes to this feature section.

A message from Gene Smith

We take this opportunity to recognize those who came before us, creating both inspiration and opportunity for others, often in the face of adversity. It is on their shoulders that today we celebrate an inclusive department that is dedicated to the ideal of equal opportunity for all our student-athletes and coaches, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion. We strive to coach, train and compete in an environment that motivates and supports all our student-athletes as they pursue their dreams.

Sr VP & Wolfe Foundation Endowed Athletics Director

Jesse Owens

From setting four world records in one day to winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic games, the native of Cleveland’s impact still transcends the realm of sports today. Following his athletics endeavors, Owens worked to promote the ascension of the modern Olympic games and was a volunteer advocate for children.

Learn more

Bill Willis

The first African-American All-American in Ohio State athletics history, the native of Columbus was a member of the 1942 Football National Championship team and played both offense and defense. He later went on to became a member of both the college football and pro football halls of fame.

learn more

Stephanie Hightower

Ohio State’s first female track and field Olympian, Hightower qualified for the 1980 games (U.S. boycott) in the 100-meter hurdles. In all, she was a four-time U.S. champ in the event. Following her track career, Hightower has held numerous leadership roles including USA Track and Field President from 2008-2016.

Learn more

William White

A four-year starter at defensive back (1985-88) that would go on to play in the NFL for 11 seasons, White – a 1992 graduate in engineering – carried on after his professional football career to become the director of corporate and community engagement for the OSU College of Engineering and Alumni Association. Recently diagnosed with ALS, he is leading research and funding campaigns to fight the disease.

Learn more

Nikita Lowry Dawkins

An All-American forward who led the Big Ten in scoring in 1988 and ’89, Lowry Dawkins has since spent her post-playing career calling the shots from the sidelines in a 26-year run as an head and assistant coach at the collegiate level. In addition to coaching at her Alma Mater, Lowry Dawkins has made stops at Michigan, Old Dominion, VCU and is currently in her second stint at the staff at Texas Tech.

Learn more

Archie Griffin

The only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in college football history, Archie Griffin helped lead Ohio State to Big Ten titles and trips to the Rose Bowl each season from 1972-75. Following his football career, Griffin became an administrator in the department of athletics at Ohio State before becoming the OSU Alumni Association President.

Learn more

Karen Dennis

A 2018 inductee into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, Dennis has continued her storied career as a competitor and coach for the last 15 seasons at Ohio State, serving as the women’s team head coach before taking over both programs in 2016. Since then, she has become the first woman to lead a men’s team to a B1G title in conference history.

Learn more

Malcolm Jenkins

The 2008 Thorpe Award winner as best defensive back in college football, Jenkins helped lead Ohio State to four straight B1G titles and back-to-back berths in the national championship game. He just completed his 10th season in the NFL with Philadelphia, winning his second Super Bowl ring in 2017 (2009 as a Saint). Off the field, he makes his impact running the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, which is committed to youth development in under-served communities

Learn more

Cameron Heyward

An All-Big Ten standout at defensive tackle for the Buckeyes, Heyward has gone on to excel at a Pro Bowl level for Pittsburgh Steelers helping the Steelers to numerous National Football League playoffs berths. In Pittsburgh, Heyward and his wife, Allie, have established the Heyward House Foundation, which is dedicated to bettering the lives of children in the community.

Learn more

Cleo Vaughn

Cleo Vaughn was the first African-American player to play varsity and letterwinner for the Ohio State men’s basketball team. Vaughn would be described as at least a four-star recruit and was a priority recruit for Ohio State and several other schools, having played three sports.

Learn more