WASHINGTON, June 5, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
James Blake left Harvard to become a professional tennis player in 1999, playing until he retired at the US Open in 2013. During his career, Blake attained a career-high World No. 4 ranking, reached the quarterfinals of three Grand Slams and the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics. He received the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2005 following a horrific injury, and was named the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year in 2008.
In his 2017 book, Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together written with Carol Taylor, Blake reflected on his experiences as a professional and showed how athletes have long been at the forefront of social change throughout our history. He paid tribute to those who were willing to raise a fist, take a stand or take a knee.
Both as a player and in other roles in tennis, including being an analyst for Tennis Channel and Miami Open tournament director, Blake has used his time to help unite people, fighting against barriers of oppression, discrimination, inequality and bias.
Blake’s journey to becoming an activist athlete – and his impetus for writing Ways of Grace – came to him when in August 2015, he found himself standing outside his high-rise hotel on a busy Manhattan sidewalk preparing to head to the US Open site in Flushing Meadows – he was the chairman of the U.S Tennis Association Foundation at the time – and, soon, was tackled and handcuffed by a police officer in a case of “mistaken identity.”
Although the feeling of rage would have been totally justified, Blake faced the incident with a sense of dignity. He used this experience as an opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of racial profiling.
“It should not matter that I am a tennis star, or a public figure with access to the media, to be treated respectfully and not have my rights taken for granted by law enforcement,” Blake wrote in his book.
“All people, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or perceived socioeconomic standing, should know that police officers will treat them respectfully and issue an accurate and timely report of any incident or altercation between them and law enforcement.
“That I have a platform and access to the media should not make what happened to me any more significant. No one should be manhandled without due process and definitely not because of a vague likeness to someone else.”
This week, many in tennis media have been revisiting Blake’s story following the killing last week of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis that was the lightening rod for coast-to-coast protests and civil unrest in the United States. He wrote an Opinion column about it that was published in USA Today on Thursday.
In an interview with Eurosport, Blake reflected on the 2015 incident which forever changed his life. “I would love to change this, but for the rest of my life, I’m probably going to be more nervous about any encounter I have with a police officer,” he said.
“I haven’t shown (my daughters) the video of me getting taken down, because I don’t know if they would understand it quite yet. With what has been on the news the past week, my wife and I have started thinking about when we’re going to start taking with them about a lot of these issues – police brutality and racism and what goes on in this country.”
Enough equivocating: George Floyd’s life mattered, my life matters, Black Lives Matter https://t.co/wEELXJJZbo
— James Blake (@JRBlake) June 4, 2020
Coco Gauff: “We must change now.”
On Wednesday, American teen sensation Coco Gauff gave an inspirational, two-minute speech in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida, in support of the Black Lives Matter protests. At age 16, Gauff is using her voice to make a difference in the ongoing fight for justice in the United States. Her speech was a wake-up call for others to participate and help effect change.
Hello everyone, my name is Coco. I was just speaking with my Grandma. I think it’s sad that I’m protesting the same thing she did 50-plus years ago.
I’m here to tell you guys this. First, we must first love each other no matter what. We must have tough conversations with friends.
I’ve been having tough conversations all week, trying to educate my non-black friends on how they can help the movement.
Second, we need to take action. We’re all out here protesting and I’m not of age to vote but it’s in your hands to vote for my future, my brother’s future and your future. So that’s one way to make change.
Third, you need to use your voice, no matter how big or small your platform is. I saw a Dr. King quote: “The silence of the good people is worse than the brutality of the bad people.”
You need to not be silent. If you are choosing to be silent you are choosing the side of the oppressor.
I heard many things this past week, and one of the things I heard is, “Well, it’s not my problem.” If you listen to black music, if you like black culture, if you have black friends, then this is your fight too.
It’s not your job, it’s not your duty, to open your mouth to say “Lil Uzi Vert is my favorite artist but I don’t care what happened to George Floyd.” How does that make sense?
I demand change now. It is sad that it takes another black man’s life from us for all of this to happen, but understand this has been going on for years. This is not just about George Floyd. It’s about Trayvon Martin, this is about Eric Garner, this is about Breonna Taylor.
I was eight years old when Trayvon Martin was killed, so why am I here at 16 still demanding change? It breaks my heart. I’m fighting for the future for my brothers. I’m fighting for the future of my future kinds. I’m fighting for the future of my future grandchildren.
We must change now, and I promise to always use my platform to spread vital information, spread awareness and fight racism. Black lives have always mattered. They mattered then, they matter now, they’ll matter in the future.
Gauff drew critical praise from many in the tennis world, including Hall of Fame great Billie Jean King, who wrote on Twitter:
“Thank you, @CocoGauff, for using your platform to speak to both the young and the not so young about injustice.
“We stand with you and the entire black community.”
— Coco Gauff (@CocoGauff) June 4, 2020
Tsitsipas and Berrettini added to UTS lineup
The Ultimate Tennis Showdown, a 10-player men’s exhibition series that is the innovation of Patrick Mouratoglou, has added Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini to its lineup.
The event, will feature 50 matches played over five weekends starting on June 13 at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy near Nice, France, now includes: Tsitsipas, Berrettini, Felix Auger-Aliassime, David Goffin, Benoit Paire, Lucas Pouille, Dustin Brown, Richard Gasquet and Alexei Popyrin. One more player is expected to added on Friday.
— UTS | Ultimate Tennis Showdown (@UTShowdown) June 4, 2020
The Way Back Machine / Li Na wins the 2011 French Open title
On June 4, 2011, Li Na became the first Asian player to win the Roland Garros women’s singles title.
On June 4, 2011, Li Na became the first Asian player to win a @rolandgarros title. 🏆 🇨🇳
She went on to reach World No. 3 with 2 Grand Slam titles and 11 singles titles. pic.twitter.com/YYhvrRJh1n
— TENNIS (@Tennis) June 4, 2020
What they’re saying
Rafael Nadal: “Tennis without fans loses almost every single thing.”
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) June 4, 2020
What they’re sharing on social media
Andrea Petkovic, Germany / Thoughts on young, fearless generation of tennis players
As a white European tennis player, it is not my place to hold big speeches. However, I feel like it is my duty to pledge allegiance and refer you to a young, fearless generation of tennis players represented by the likes of @naomiosaka @CocoGauff and @FTiafoe. I am with you.
— Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic) June 4, 2020
Christopher Clarey / A tale of the 34-year-old tape
Federer at 34
17 Grand Slam titles
23 Masters 1000 titles
6 year-end championships
1 Olympic gold, 1 silver
1 Davis Cup title
302 weeks No. 1
Nadal at 34
19 Grand Slam titles
35 Masters 1000 titles
0 year-end championships
2 Olympic golds
5 Davis Cup titles
209 weeks No. 1 pic.twitter.com/slz8hzixvj
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 3, 2020
Ines Ibbou, Algeria / Training with Tunisian champions
Training with champions 🧨💥🔥 @SelimaSfar x @JaziriMalek Thank you for this amazing session. It’s been so gooooddd 🙏🏻⭐️✨⚡️ #Tennis4All #NoDahk #TeamAfrica #Team3arabi #🇩🇿 #🇹🇳 @TeamOnFireS pic.twitter.com/fqQAeEmQM4
— Ines Ibbou (@InesIbbou) May 29, 2020