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Fifty years ago this month, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win a Grand Slam event.
The Undefeated remembers it this way:
“Just another day at the office,” Ashe shrugged he told the Baltimore Sun‘s Jim Caffrey. “I never get too excited about winning anything; it’s just my philosophy of life.
Of equal importance, Ashe told [The Washington Post’s Mark] Asher, was using his success to help African-Americans: “There are a lot of social and racial problems. I have a mandate to do all I can. … We have to learn from mistakes. We all know the problems in the world. The solution for the future is to study the past.”
And The Guardian points out that Ashe’s leadership extended long beyond his days on the court, to when he revealed that he had contracted HIV/AIDS after a blood transfusion.
On the tennis court, he had always been prone to fits of reckless play, going for broke with shots that defied logic or sense. Off the court, particularly in his later years, Arthur Ashe almost always went full-out. He did so not because he craved activity for its own sake but rather because he wanted to live a virtuous and productive life. Even near the end, weakened by disease, he still wanted to make a difference. And he did, as he always did.
What is the status of the activist-athlete today? How do players use their platforms to speak out? And as many debate whether U.S. Open officials continually target Serena Williams because she’s a black woman, is it any easier to be an athlete of color now?
Raymond Arsenault, author of that piece in The Guardian, and others who know the legacy of Ashe well will join us to situate the tennis pioneer’s life in the context of the new age of the political athlete.
Produced by Bianca Martin. Text by Gabrielle Healy.
- Raymond Arsenault Historian; author, “Arthur Ashe: A Life”
- Rex Miller Documentary creator and producer, “Ashe ‘68 Virtual Reality Experience”
- Caitlin Thompson Publisher and co-founder of Racquet magazine, an independent quarterly about tennis; @caitlin_thomps
- Charlie Pasarell Best friend of Arthur Ashe; former tennis player for Puerto Rico; a founder, National Junior Tennis League
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