I don't know much about tennis. I never played, unless you count tennis camp at Carter Barron on 16th circa 2000. If you remember Mayor Anthony Williams (after Barry before Fenty), it was during his tenure. But that's just never been my wave, even with the influence of today's pioneering black tennis players, the Williams sisters.
What has always been apart of me though since before I was even born was my name—Arthur. That name means so much not only to me, but to millions of lives across the country. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but that name symbolizes what it takes to be a champion both on and off the court. The man who first transcended the game of tennis for our people and humanitarianism in sports in general is the tennis legend, Arthur Ashe. Not a Jones, but an Arthur nonetheless.
The ESPY Awards, the oscars of sport, gives out the Arthur Ashe Courage Award annually. It is an honor given to people “whose contributions transcend sports through courageous actions.” This year, for example, Michelle Obama presented the award to Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy for starting a franchise for the disabled and truly setting a standard of inclusion for people who are excluded from most physical activities. Including handicapped and impaired children in sports, something they otherwise would be devoid of, speaks to Ashe’s message of social change because all he wanted was to make the world an equal and fair atmosphere for everyone.
This man fought for civil and social rights throughout a surmounting racially and culturally divided era. In 1969, he was unable to play in the South African Open because his Visa was denied for being a black man, and his first bouts fighting against segregation were international due to the Apartheid in that country. Ashe would fight for anything he saw as an injustice to the rights of the people no matter the place or circumstance.
He was the first African American male to win the U.S. Open, doing so as an amateur, and once he officially turned pro he realized there were glaring inequalities at that level as well. Not only was there a huge gap in the racial demographic, but there was also unfair player wages. In 1972, he helped start the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) to combat the unequal pay athletes were getting in comparison to the worldwide interest and revenue from the sport. If he saw a flawed precedent, he was going to find a way to use his platform to make change.
The noble acts of Ashe make him the influential figure in sports that he is today. Aside from being a black man playing the game of tennis and reaching the mountaintop, he fostered movements of change socially, culturally, and in our community, educationally. Ashe was a global icon both before and after HIV took his life tragically in 1993.
Today, 42 years after he won the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Title, I watched and cheered on Venus Williams competing in the women’s match. Although she was defeated this go round, these opportunities in sports, for her and for the generations to come, would not be available if our heroes like Ashe had not stood for equality. It’s true, there’s no Kaepernick without Ali and of course Ashe.
Let’s face it; it’s gotta be the name.