But Jackson was referring to the "four horsemen" of black athletics. They are, he said, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. Jackson gave the eulogy at each man's funeral.
Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. In doing so, he dismissed Adolf Hitler's myth of Aryan superiority. In those days in Georgia and Mississippi, in particular, and elsewhere in the South, in general, lynchings of black men were commonplace. Owens' triumphs not only spoke for persecuted blacks but persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany.
What damage Owens didn't do to the Nazis, Joe Louis did in 1938 when he knocked out Max Schmeling, who was Hitler's last Aryan hope. At that time in the South, blacks were not allowed to watch a white man compete against a black man in a prizefight. Louis went on to be the greatest heavyweight champion, according to many fight fans.
Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball in 1947. As late as the early 1950s, when Robinson came to Philadelphia with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was not welcome in the hotels where his white teammates stayed.
Ray Robinson who died last week at age 68 was considered to be the greatest prizefighter pound for pound of all time. But he never got the respect or the money that his talents should have commanded. His best payday for a fight was $200,000, far less than the multi-million paychecks that fighters with lesser skills get today.
But the common thread among all four men was that their significant achievements as athletes had social implications that far exceeded anything they did in sports. The black "four horsemen" competed at a time when America was segregated, when most black Americans lived in the South and their quality of life existed only at the whim of white America.
During their prime as athletes, the four were treated like second-class citizens outside of the sports arenas. Despite their treatment, all four served their country well. Three of them - the two Robinsons and Louis - served honorably in the U.S. military during World War II.
They all were inspired to excellence by the hope that things would be better for black Americans if they succeded. They were right.
Through their athletic successes, they symbolically spoke for black America. At the time, there were no political leaders to do so. Black scholars and civil rights leaders did not have a nationwide audience.
It was the American way to use the athletic field as a political symbol. And blacks were even denied an opportunity to compete in many sports at the time. The black four horsemen competed when apartheid in America was the status quo, a time before agents and huge paydays and steroids.
When Louis held the heavyweight title longer than any other man and Ray Robinson won five titles, they did so with a style and dignity that is so woefully missing in today's athletes.
The four horsemen of black athletics lived long enough to see significant changes and improvements in race relations and in opportunity for black Americans.
Try to motivate athletes today to make sacrifices for their sports and their people without monetary assurances, and they don't want to talk to you.
The connection that Jackson made was that the black four horsemen set an example for today's black youths not only to achieve in sports but in the game of life. No matter how bad things are today, they are not as bad as they were when the black four horsemen were young.