Top row: Tracy Morgan; Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson; Maya Angelou; Richard Sherman. Second row: Paul George, Michael Brown, Carmelo Anothony, Derek Jeter, Eric Garner. Third row: Solange Knowles, Russell Wilson, Tony Gwynn, Nicki Minaj, Tim Howard. Bottom row: Michael Sam, DeSean Jackson, LeBron James, Suge Knight; Avonte Oquendo.
Getty Images; Eric Garner: Facebook; Avonte Oquendo: Autism Wonderland

Which African-American sports figure sparked a national conversation on spanking? Whose wedding photos had everybody in a frenzy? With all the news that happened in 2014, it’s always interesting to look back to see who had us furiously typing into that search box. According to Google, which compiled the rankings based on data from trillions of searches, here are the top 20 African Americans who piqued our interest in 2014:

1. Tracy Morgan
The popular comedian was critically injured in a six-vehicle accident in June, which killed one and injured three others. A Wal-Mart truck driver was charged in the accident. Prosecutors claimed he was speeding and had been awake more than 24 hours. Morgan—who suffered a “traumatic brain injury,” according to his lawyer—is suing the retail chain.


2. Ray Rice
The video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Rice punching his then-fiancee, now-wife, Janay Rice, launched a national conversation on domestic abuse and forced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change how the league handles domestic violence by its players.

3. Adrian Peterson
When the Minnesota Vikings running back was charged with injuring a child after hitting his 4-year-old son with a small tree branch, the news launched a national conversation on spanking.


4. Maya Angelou
The prolific author, poet and spiritual mother to phenomenal women everywhere died on May 28 at age 86.

5. Richard Sherman
When the Seattle Seahawks cornerback gave one of the trash-talkin’-est postgame interviews ever after making the play to send his team to the Super Bowl, he ended up on the receiving end of racist rants from people on Twitter, with some labeling him a “thug” and a “n—ger.” Either they didn’t know or care that the Pro Bowler was a Stanford graduate who had pulled himself up from the mean streets of Compton, Calif.


6. Paul George
The Indiana Pacers guard suffered one of the most stomach-churning injuries in recent memory when he broke his right leg during a scrimmage game with the U.S. national team in August. George has been making steady progress since having surgery to repair two bones in his leg and recently began shooting jumpers.

7. Michael Brown
The Aug. 9 shooting death of the unarmed Ferguson, Mo., teenager at the hands of then-Police Officer Darren Wilson—and the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer—sparked protests across the country. Brown’s death—along with the death of Eric Garner a month earlier—helped thrust the issue of police brutality into the national spotlight.


8. Carmelo Anthony
Anthony gave New York Knicks fans a scare when he decided to opt out of the last year of his contract to test the free-agent market. Ultimately, ’Melo ended up re-signing with the team, claiming he was a “Knick at heart.” We’re pretty sure the $124 million contract helped.

9. Derek Jeter
After 19 years and five World Series rings, the New York Yankees second baseman decided to hang up his glove, but not before providing one final heroic play that typified his career: a walk-off, game-winning hit in his last at bat.


10. Eric Garner
When the grand jury failed to indict the New York City police officer who applied the choke hold—a move banned in 1993—that killed the Staten Island father of six, the decision inflamed an already incensed nation that was still reeling from the nonindictment in the Michael Brown case days earlier.

11. Solange Knowles
It can’t be easy living in the shadow of a big sister who happens to be the biggest pop star in the world. But baby sis found a few, ahem, unusual ways to break out on her own. First there was the infamous elevator incident where she delivered a few kung fu kicks at big sister’s husband, Jay Z. Then there was her fabulous wedding to Alan Ferguson that nearly broke the Internet.


12. Russell Wilson
Last season the Seattle Seahawks quarterback helped his team embarrass Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in February. But before Wilson could even finish basking in the glow of his Super Bowl ring, reports surfaced this season about locker-room discord between Wilson and some of his teammates, who tagged him with that old, tired criticism of not being black enough.

13. Tony Gwynn
Baseball Hall of Famer Gwynn, known to legions of San Diego fans as Mr. Padre, died of cancer at age 54.


14. Nicki Minaj
In 2014 Minaj couldn’t stay out of the news. In February she had to apologize for using an iconic image of Malcolm X as the cover art for her single “Lookin’ Ass Nigga,” which didn’t go over well with Twitter. Then, in July, the cover art for her single “Anaconda” featured an ample view of Minaj’s backside, which provoked a few think pieces. And last month the rapper-singer had to apologize for the Nazi imagery in her new video. On the upside, she did get to join Queen Bey on a superb “Flawless” remix.

15. Tim Howard
At the World Cup this summer, U.S. Men’s National Team goalie Howard made a record 16 saves against Belgium, which spawned one of the year’s best memes, #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave.


16. Michael Sam
Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team when he was picked in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. Sam was cut by the team before the final roster, but he signed briefly with the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad before being released again. He’s currently a free agent.

17. DeSean Jackson
The Philadelphia Eagles cut its star wide receiver—despite the fact that he was coming off one of his best seasons—because of alleged gang ties. Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman, who’d been saddled with a few labels because of where he grew up, came to Jackson’s defense, penning a column that noted, “Stardom doesn’t change where you’re from.”


18. LeBron James
After his much-hyped decision to play for the Miami Heat, where he helped the team win back-to-back championships, King James decided to return to his home state of Ohio to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first team that drafted him right out of high school.

19. Suge Knight
Someone needs to tell Knight the ’90s are over. First the Death Row founder was shot six times at Chris Brown’s pre-MTV Video Music Awards party in August. Then, in October, he and comedian Katt Williams were arrested on charges of robbing a celebrity photographer after they allegedly snatched her camera. While in jail for that arrest, Knight was hospitalized after passing out two times.


20. Avonte Oquendo
In January the remains of 14-year-old Avonte were identified after they were discovered near the East River in New York City. Avonte, who suffered from autism, had been missing since October 2013 after he slipped through an open door at a school for children with disabilities in Queens, N.Y.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter