Arthur Ashe Statue Defaced in Virginia

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Arthur Ashe, a native of Richmond, Va., was a world-class tennis player, a trailblazer. He became the first black man to win the Wimbledon Championships, the Australian Open and the US Open. Following his death in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia, a statue was erected in Richmond to honor Ashe, who stood against privilege, poverty and racism. It sits on the city’s Monument Avenue, a residential street that is also dotted with several prominently-placed Confederate monuments.

On Wednesday, the base of the Ashe statue was defaced with “WLM” and “White Lives Matter.” The letters “BLM,” denoting “Black Lives Matter” were spray-painted over the original graffiti.

Volunteers arrived and cleaned the monument, and by the end of Wednesday, all of the “White Lives Matter” graffiti had been removed. Throughout Virginia and across the United States, there have been over two weeks of protests against racism and police brutality following the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

According to The New York Times, a witness confronted the vandal in the act, a white male who later returned to clean the graffiti after being outed via social media. The witness, Fatima Pashaei, was quoted as saying, “I’m not sure why he felt the need to desecrate the one black statue on Monument Avenue. These Confederate generals might all be dead, but their foot soldiers are still alive and active here in Richmond.” 

Ashe’s nephew, David Harris Jr. later arrived at the statue after he had received several calls to alert him to the vandalism. The New York Times quoted him as saying, “I was disheartened about it. People are outraged that people choose to vandalize a statue that represents peace, prosperity, inclusion, education, and the life and true fabric of the country: children.

“It lets us know that there are folks out there that don’t believe in being inclusive. They believe in discriminatory acts and racism still.”

Three years after Ashe’s 1993 death, his statue on Monument Avenue was dedicated. It stood out against the backdrop of the Confederate monuments.

Harris was asked by a reporter what he thought Ashe would say about the “current climate” in the U.S. “I don’t think he would be too surprised,” he said, “but I think he would understand the nature of what the people are upset about, what the people are fighting for.

“I think he would support Black Lives Matter because what we are dealing with is not police brutality, it s a myriad things that has been wove into the fabric of America. Some of those threads need to be yanked out.”

Djokovic “very glad” US Open going ahead

Appearing on the latest episode of Eurosport’s Tennis Legends video podcast, which premieres on Thursday, June 25, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic said he is “very glad” the US Open will be taking place. In a conversation with host Mats Wilander and Eurosport tennis analyst Alex Corretja, Djokovic expressed his happiness about the restart of the ATP Tour and the prospect there will be two Grand Slams as part of the revised 2020 schedule, which was interrupted in March by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m extremely happy and excited to see that all the tournaments, especially the Grand Slams, are organizing their events,” said Djokovic.

“I think it is fantastic news that the tour is coming back. I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of all the players and all the tennis fans and everyone involved in the tennis ecosystem. This is what we have been waiting for, for all these months. We’ve been hoping and praying that the tour will continue very soon.

“We are very glad that it is happening, of course, and it is very important that we provide opportunities, we provide jobs, we provide opportunities for players to compete. Because at the end of this day, this is what we do. As tennis professionals, we love the sport; we are passionate about it. We miss competing and traveling and, at the end of the day, we miss being on tour. So, I think this is positive news.”

On Thursday, Djokovic also joined Tennis Channel Live via Skype. Asked by presenter Steve Weissman if he would play the US Open, Djokovic said, “I’m just going to wait and see how it all turns out. … I would love to go, but still I have to see how it all plays out with regulations.”

US Open organizers slammed for excluding wheelchair tennis

In an effort to streamline this year’s US Open while adhering to a strict protocol of health and safety measures, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has excluded all wheelchair events. According to The Telegraph’s Simon Briggs, Jordanne Whiley, former World No. 1 from Great Britain, described the US Open’s decision to exclude wheelchair tennis from this year’s tournament as “a step back, because they obviously don’t value us [enough] as athletes.”

On social media, Australia’s Dylan Alcott called the decision “disgusting discrimination” and said the US Open cutting wheelchair tennis without consultation with players “hurt so much. It goes beyond tennis.”

Other champion wheelchair players, Andy Lapthorne of the United States and Gordon Reid from Great Britain, took to social media as well.

On Thursday, Ben Rothenberg, who is a Racquet Magazine senior editor as well as co-host of the NCR Tennis Podcast, defended the wheelchair tennis players. He wrote on Twitter:

The #USOpen decision to take out the wheelchair competition is pretty brutal and tough to imagine a defense for. It’s the most distancing friendly discipline: there are so few wheelchair players, and they traditionally play only after most of the other players have left.

Hopefully #USOpen has time to reconsider this, because slashing wheelchair players (in a year where they’re already missing the Paralympics) while simultaneously allowing big able-bodied stars to take bigger entourages reads as incredibly cold.

And unlike quality players, who I think can be fairly cut on a meritocratic basis, wheelchair players are the very best in the world at what they do.

That’s elite, top-level competition that the #USOpen is taking away from the players on wheels.

By Thursday afternoon, the International Paralympic Games wrote on Twitter: “We urged the organizers to reconsider this decision which could potentially undo years of great work to promote and showcase the sport of wheelchair tennis.”

Meanwhile, according to the BBC’s Russell Fuller, the ITF suggests it hasn’t given up hope on having wheelchair tennis at this year’s US Open.

Addition by subtraction at the UTS

Quentin Moutet has replaced injured Lucas Pouille in the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, which resumes this weekend at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy near Nice, France. Dominic Thiem, fresh off of winning last weekend’s Adria Tour event in Belgrade is added to the lineup, too.

Destigmatizing the discussion of mental health in sports’s Steve Tignor has written a thoughtful and important story, “Can tennis help destigmatize the discussion of mental health in sports?”, in which he spoke at length with two-time US Open semifinalist and U.S. Davis Cup star Cliff Richey.

“I didn’t know what was wrong,” Richey, now 73, says today from his home in San Angelo, Texas. “My brain was in a storm for five or six years. I was self-medicating with alcohol and basically a functional depressive, but I didn’t have that term.”

Richey thought his malaise was just part of life on tour, where loneliness and jet lag are the norm, your friend one day is your opponent the next, and slumps can crush even the most iron-willed player’s soul. Few people, and even fewer male professional athletes, talked about depression in those days. And that went double in tennis, a sport with a strong ethos of self-reliance. Among Richey’s peers, Arthur Ashe was one of the few who expressed concern about his work-hard, play-hard lifestyle.

“I always had bad anxiety, even in the juniors, but I wrote it off,” Richey says. “I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. In my family, it was nothing but tennis, and I’d always worried about how good I was compared to others.”

Tignor’s story is worth a good read.

What they’re sharing on social media

Bianca Andreescu / Dear US Open

Allie Kiick / Thankful Roland Garros