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Arthur Ashe
Arthur Ashe Arthur Ashe


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The first black man to reach the top ranks of international tennis, Arthur Ashe is the very personification of the educated gentleman- athlete Ashe's talents on the tennis courts not only secured his personal fame, they also opened the sport to greater black participation--both on a professional and recreational basis Wichita Eagle columnist Fred Mann noted that the dignified Ashe has had "as much to do as anyone with transforming tennis in the 1970s into a sport that was popular with the masses" Mann added that the former winner of the prestigious Wimbledon and US Open matches and Tennis Hall of Famer "conducted himself on the court with grace and composure at all times, unlike some of his Caucasian colleagues" Arthur Ashe was certainly a phenomenon during his playing career and remains one to this day In the Richmond Times-Dispatch Bob Lipper wrote that Ashe "is wealthy and famous, a certified American hero whose visibility endures a decade after his playing career ended More, he's a voice of reason in a minefield of rhetorical overkill, a conscience on matters of race and sport.

And he's an accomplished man of letters" Lipper referred to the critically acclaimed role Ashe has assumed as an author, columnist, and lecturer on issues concerning blacks in sports "As a tennis player, Arthur Ashe was first-rate--not as successful as he might've been minus the self-imposed emotional constraints that governed his existence in an Anglo world of country clubs and garden parties--but a major force nonetheless," Lipper continued "Still, it's been during the 1980s--as an ex-athlete--that Ashe has truly become world-class, establishing his credentials as businessman, author, commentator and champion of just causes He's made it look easy, but then grace always was part of his essence" Arthur Ashe, Jr, was born July 10th, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia His ancestry is Native American and Mexican as well as black While Ashe was a youngster growing up in segregated Richmond, his father ran the largest park for blacks in the city In fact, the Ashe family lived in a caretaker's cottage right in the park, so young Arthur spent many hours engaged in athletic pursuits.

Lipper described Arthur Ashe, Sr, as a hardworking man who "subscribed to such fuddy-duddy virtues as diligence and respect and honest labor, and he expected nothing less from his children" From his father Ashe inherited a sense of pride, dedication, and dignity His mother's influence led to a measure of introversion that translated to studied calm on the court Ashe's was not a trouble-free childhood He told the Chicago Tribune: "My mom died when I was six, and books and sports were my way of bandaging the wound I was too light for football and not quite fast enough for track, which left tennis as a logical choice" The choice might have been more logical for a white youngster in those last days of nationally legislated racism Black players-- with the outstanding exception of Althea Gibson--were almost nonexistent in the highest amateur and professional ranks Still Ashe persevered, taking encouragement from the success of baseball player Jackie Robinson.

He was also encouraged in his all-black school in Richmond, where he says he received an excellent education "It was part of a curious phenomenon I call the paradoxical advantage of segregation," Ashe told the Chicago Tribune "Discrimination plus the bias women faced in the job market combined to provide us with some truly remarkable teachers Every day we got the same message drummed into us 'Despite discrimination and lynch mobs,' teachers told us, 'some black folks have always managed to find a way to succeed Okay, this may not be the best-equipped school; that just means you're going to have to be a little better prepared than white kids and ready to seize any opportunity that comes your way'" Ashe did seize the opportunity--he was an honors student in high school and was accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles, on a tennis scholarship.

Ashe began playing tennis at the age of seven in the playground that his father maintained Ronald Charity, a part-time instructor at the playground, noticed Ashe's talent and arranged for the boy to meet Dr Walter Johnson, a black doctor based in Lynchburg, Virginia In addition to his medical practice, Johnson enjoyed coaching promising black tennis players and provided them with proper equipment and courts He detected Ashe's potential very early and did everything he could to advance the youngster's career Unfortunately, Johnson's lessons also necessarily had to stress court etiquette for black players; since the game was so dominated by whites, and Johnson and his charges lived in the South, he taught his players to accept defeat graciously and to celebrate victories with humility Ashe was playing as a nationally ranked amateur by the time he turned 14 In both 1960 and 1961 he won the junior indoor singles title, a feat that brought him to the attention of Richard Hudlin, a tennis coach in the St Louis area Hudlin invited Ashe to St Louis to continue his tennis training Ashe accepted the offer and finished high school there By 1962 he was the fifth-ranked junior player in the United States.

Such a dry recital of the facts makes Ashe's accomplishments sound easy In reality he faced a multitude of race-related obstacles, including being barred from competition because his application arrived "too late"--a favorite excuse of segregated country clubs When he was allowed to play Ashe often found himself surrounded by a sea of white faces, both on and off the court He was the lone black star in his sport and he remained ever conscious of the example he was setting Ashe told the Wichita Eagle that despite his success, his self-esteem suffered from the treatment he had received from whites while growing up in the South "You never fully overcome {racism}," he said "I hate to say it, but you live with it all your life You get the undeniable impression that the world doesn't like you," he continued After graduating from high school Ashe accepted a scholarship at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) There he perfected his skills with UCLA coach J.

D Morgan and tennis legend Pancho Gonzalez, who lived near the campus In 1963 Ashe earned a place on the Davis Cup team and earned a victory in his first national contest, the US Men's Hard Court championship The following year saw him ranked sixth nationally among amateurs, and in 1965--after singles victories in the Davis Cup finals and a tour of Australia--he became the second-ranked amateur in the nation Ashe closed out his collegiate tennis career by leading UCLA to the NCAA national championship, winning in both singles and doubles competition Not one to neglect his studies in favor of tennis, however, Ashe earned a Bachelor's degree in business administration in June of 1966 Ashe continued to play tennis during his military service, which he served as a first lieutenant from the Reserve Officers' Training Corps In the midst of his stint with the army he won the 1967 Men's Clay Court championship and the United States amateur title The latter victory earned him an invitation to the US Open tournament; it came as little surprise to tennis observers when Ashe won the Open and became the top-ranked player in the nation in 1968 Even in those glory days, however, the tennis star felt isolated by his race.

He told Sports Illustrated: "It's an abnormal world I live in I don't belong anywhere It's like I'm floating down the middle I'm never quite sure where I am I do get lonely and it does bother me that I am in this predicament But I don't dwell on it, because I know it will resolve itself" Displaying a composure well beyond his years and a vast repertory of power backhands, Ashe remained among the top-five-ranked tennis stars internationally between 1969 and 1975.

Observers noted his relaxed demeanor on the court and the calm but grim determination that often unnerved his more volatile opponents Few in the audience realized that Ashe was far more emotional than he seemed Before important matches he would sometimes be stricken with nervous stomach cramps; Ashe has since admitted that he wishes he could have been more free with his feelings during those crucial years Ashe turned professional in 1969 and played numerous important matches throughout the following decade His game peaked in 1975 when he won both the prestigious Wimbledon Singles championship and the World Championship Tennis Singles By that time the changing racial climate had improved sports opportunities for black athletes and Ashe was hailed as a pioneer in his field: He was the first black man to win at Wimbledon and the first to receive a number-one ranking internationally In 1979, at the age of thirty-five, Ashe suffered a major heart attack He underwent quadruple bypass surgery, vowing to return to tennis as soon as he healed Upon recovery, however, he still suffered chest pains and was threatened with further surgery He announced his retirement from tennis in April of 1980.

"An athlete retires twice," Ashe told the Chicago Tribune "The first time is when they don't renew your contract But for a couple of years afterwards you still think you could get in shape again and play another season or two Then one day you look in the mirror and the reality finally sinks in that it's time to find something else to do with the rest of your life" So Arthur Ashe the tennis star became Arthur Ashe the author, lecturer, and social critic Few former athletes of any race have put their college educations to greater use than did Ashe In 1982 he was invited to give a seminar on the history of blacks in sports at Florida Memorial College When he went to the library to research the topic, he found very little documentation of black accomplishment in professional sports, especially before the days of Negro League baseball Investing $300,000 of his own money and several years in the process of research and writing, Ashe produced A Hard Road to Glory, a three-volume comprehensive history of America's black athletes "The project was a natural," Ashe told the Chicago Tribune, "since it brought both sides of me, the bookish and the sports-minded, together.

Once I made the decision to do it, I had to go at the book the way I've always done things-- the way our teachers at Maggie Walker High School insisted upon-- all out, with everything I've got" A Hard Road to Glory received critical acclaim and went into a second printing It earned Ashe a number of honorary doctorates from the nation's universities and even an Emmy award when it was produced as a television documentary Having had two heart attacks, Ashe guarded his health with great care In, 1988, he underwent brain surgery Ashe was then diagnosed with AIDS He had contracted the virus from an unchecked blood transfusion during his heart surgery in 1983 Though diagnosed in 1988 Ashe kept his illness a secret until a newspaper threatened exposure in 1992 He made the announcement at a press conference Not one to back down from a challenge, Ashe established the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

He also joined the boards of the Harvard AIDS Institute and the UCLA AIDS Institute As he solicited help from professional tennis to raise funds and increase awareness of this deadly disease Already an activist--he spoke out against apartheid in South Africa, racism--he became a champion of human causes He spoke on the importance of educating young minds He spoke about the tragedies of the inner cities He protested against the US immigration policy toward Haitians He questioned the lack of funding for AIDS research He also spoke at the General Assembly of the United Nations concerning AIDS issues on World AIDS Day in December of 1992 During his last months, Ashe wrote a final biography entitled Days of Grace: A Memoir He covered the social issues that were important to him, his living with AIDS and his family, especially his daughter, Camera.

On February 6, 1993, Arthur Ashe died of pneumonia, a complication of AIDS, in New York City His body lay in state at the Virginia governor's mansion as many people paid their last respects A memorial service was held in St John's Cathedral in New York City, and the funeral took place at the Ashe Athletic Center in Richmond, Virginia To commemorate Ashe's life, a statue was erected on Monument Avenue in Richmond A new stadium at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York, was also named after Ashe Though known for his accomplishments on the tennis courts, Ashe was a symbol of grace and hope to all Perhaps writer S L Price of Sports Illustrated stated it best: "Sport is fleeting Wonderful careers spark, blaze and flame out in a decade; the typical champion spends his remaining 50 years in a kind of endless cast party, full of backslaps and soggy nostalgia.

Not Ashe He knew that his place in history gave him authority, a platform he could either sleep on or speak from for the rest of his days He made his choice It made him different" .



 
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