Chadwick Boseman, star of “42,” “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story,” and “Draft Day,” died at the age of 43 Friday following a four-year bout with colon cancer, his representatives announced. Boseman rose to international stardom for his role as King T’Challa, the Black Panther, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but three of his first four film appearances came in sports films. In two of those roles, he portrayed real athletes. 

His most prominent portrayal of a sports figure came in 2013, when he played Jackie Robinson in “42”. Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947, and the film portrays the events of that tumultuous rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the racism he encountered from teammates, fans and opponents. Despite the hatred and violence he encountered, Robinson never retaliated. 

Normally, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day on April 15th, the anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut. Every player in baseball wears No. 42, which is retired league-wide in Robinson’s honor. However, due to the coronavirus-induced delay of the season, Major League Baseball moved Jackie Robinson Day to Aug. 28, which happened to be the day of Boseman’s death. 

Boseman’s other portrayal of a major sports figure was also his first film role. That came in 2008’s “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story”. The movie told the story of Ernie Davis, the first Black player to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest individual honor. Boseman played Floyd Little, another legendary Syracuse running back. His only fictional role in a sports film came as another football player, linebacker Vontae Mack, in 2014’s “Draft Day”. 

In addition to star athletes, Boseman was known for playing other Black icons, including Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice, and James Brown, one of the most successful Black musicians of all time. “Black Panther” is the highest-grossing film ever to both star a Black actor and be written and directed by Black filmmakers. Boseman was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed performers of his generation, and his work will not soon be forgotten. 

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