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Sports Medals

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The United States has honored several famous sports figures with Congressional Gold Medals, collected here. The Mint has also created commemorative coins related to sports and the Olympic Games.

  • 1973 Roberto Walker Clemente

    Roberto Clemente's career in baseball spanned 18 years, most of it as right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Among his many awards were "Most Valuable Player in the National League" in 1966, and the "World Series Most Valuable Player" in 1971.

    As a humanitarian, Roberto created a sports city in Puerto Rico to help disadvantaged children develop athletic skills and prevent drug abuse. He was bringing relief provisions to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua when he and four others perished in a plane crash in the ocean near his native land, Puerto Rico.

    The Baseball Hall of Fame waived the five-year waiting period, and he became the first Hispanic voted into the Hall of Fame in the following year, 1973. In his memory, the "Roberto Clemente Award" was established as the highest award in baseball for both sportsmanship and community activism.

    This medal, slightly convex on both sides, shows Clemente's face on the front and a group of baseballs bursting through a barrier on the back. The medal recognizes Roberto Clemente's "outstanding athletic, civil, charitable, and humanitarian contributions."

    Clemente medal obverse
    Clemente medal obverse
    Clemente medal reverse
  • Joe Louis medal: front Joe Louis medal: back

    1982 Joe Louis

    The "Brown Bomber" kept his title of heavyweight champion for 25 fights in a row. Joe Louis was the World Heavyweight Champion for 12 years (1937 to 1949), a boxing record.

    Many see Joe Louis as the first African-American nationwide hero. Louis was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and was ranked as the Number One Heavyweight Boxer of all time in 2005.

    Joe Louis also helped to integrate the game of golf in 1952. His efforts paved the way for the African-American professional golfers who followed.

    During World War II, Joe Louis encouraged African-Americans to enlist, entertained troops with boxing exhibitions, and became an American representative to the world. This work led to the reason why Congress awarded Louis this medal: for "his accomplishments which did so much to bolster the spirit of the American people during one of the most crucial times in American history and which have endured throughout the years as a symbol of strength for the Nation."

  • Jesse Owens medal: front Jesse Owens medal: back

    1988 Jesse Owens

    In 1935, Jesse Owens broke three world records within 45 minutes. He was the first American to win four Olympic gold medals for running at a single Olympics in Berlin the following year (1936). He was the most successful athlete of the Games.

    In 1950, Owens was named the greatest track athlete of the previous 50 years. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974. President Gerald Ford awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976. Ford, as a college student in 1935, had watched Owens break records.

    Jesse Owens served as a running coach and teacher and lectured often on his experiences in sports and recipes for success. He regularly spoke out against segregation and racism in general. He was a liaison to the black community for a national fitness program for the federal government and later oversaw state programs for teens as head of the Illinois Youth Commission.

    President Eisenhower's administration sent him on many international goodwill tours. Owens also served on the Board of Directors of the United States Olympic Committee.

    This medal recognizes his "athletic achievements and humanitarian contributions to public service, civil rights, and international goodwill."

  • Jackie Robinson medal: front Jackie Robinson medal: back

    2005 Jackie Robinson

    In 1947, the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers asked Jackie to join the team. African-Americans had not played on Major League baseball teams since baseball became racially segregated in the late 1880s.

    Jackie Robinson won varsity letters as a student at UCLA in four different sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was the first African-American elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and the first African-American baseball analyst on national TV.

    Robinson stood strong in the face of unfair treatment, helping to integrate all of professional sports. His talent and skill earned him the titles "Rookie of the Year" and "Most Valuable Player." During his 10-year career with the Dodgers, his team won the pennant six times and the World Series once, in 1955.

    After retiring from baseball, he co-founded the Freedom National Bank of Harlem and a construction company that helped provide housing for low-income families. He also led thousands of students on a civil rights march.

    Although Robinson died in 1972, this medal was given to his family in 2005 to recognize his "legacy and personal achievements," and "many contributions to the Nation."

  • Byron Nelson medal: front The back shows a younger Nelson swinging a club, with the word Champion superimposed.  Behind him, a close-up golf ball on a tee is surrounded by the words Player, Teacher, Humanitarian.

    2006 Byron Nelson

    Byron Nelson was a top player and commentator in the sport of golf. He won 54 career victories, including a record 11 in a row, during his short 13-year career. At the Seattle Open in 1945, Byron Nelson shot a record 62 for 18 holes.

    Nelson has received numerous awards for sportsmanship and furthering the sport of golf. He helped to develop the golf shoes and umbrellas still used today. He was also one of the first and most profound of golf analysts on network television.

    Byron Nelson mentored many young golfers, including two Players of the Year. His endowment fund has provided over $1.5 million to Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. The Byron Nelson Championship has raised $88 million for a nonprofit agency in the Dallas area that provides education and mental health services for more than 2,700 children and their families.

    This medal was awarded to recognize Byron Nelson's "significant contributions to the game of golf as a player, a teacher, and a commentator."

  • Front of medal shows Palmer finishing his golf swing and his name. Back shows crossed clubs and a ball on a tee with inscriptions: In recognition of his service to the nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship, 92 professional golf victories, and 7 major championships.

    2012 Arnold Palmer

    Arnold D. Palmer is a world-famous golf professional. By the end of 1993, he had won 92 championships in professional competitions, 62 of them on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour. Arnold Palmer's magnetic personality and unfailing sense of kindness and thoughtfulness have endeared him to millions throughout the world.

    His countless honors include virtually every national award in golf, and he was chosen Athlete of the Decade for the 1960s in a national Associated Press poll. In 2008, the United States Golf Association opened the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History.

    Arnold Palmer served as Honorary National Chairman of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation for 20 years. He also played a major role in the fund-raising drive that led to the creation of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando and the Latrobe Area Hospital Charitable Foundation in his Western Pennsylvania hometown.

    This medal recognizes Arnold Palmer's "service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf."

  • Salt Lake City medal: front Salt Lake City medal: back

    Other Commemorative Coins

    Here are some commemorative coins that have honored sporting events and players:

    • Los Angeles Olympiad (1983, 1984)
    • Seoul Olympiad (1988)
    • XXV Olympiad (1992)
    • World Cup Soccer Tournament (1994)
    • Special Olympics World Games (1995)
    • XXVI Olympiad (includes Paralympics coins) (1995, 1996)
    • Jackie Robinson (1997)
    • Salt Lake City Olympic Games (2002) as a commemorative coin.

    See these coins and learn more on the Sports Commemorative Coins slide show.

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