Opinion: The permanent whiteness of tennis

Editor’s note: Harry Edwards, sociologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, author of “The black athlete revolutionAbout black activity on the field and in the sports arena. The opinions expressed here are his own. Read More opinion In CNN.


If you watched Frances Tiafoe play at the US Open last week in hopes of seeing the next chapter in the development of the talented tennis talent, you were generously rewarded. But if you’re looking for evidence of efforts by the sport’s officials to ensure there are more Tiafoes following in his footsteps, you may have to wait.

Sunday’s US Open final saw Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz defeat Norway’s Casper Ruud in four sets. But as a researcher whose work focuses on blacks in sports, I was more interested in Friday’s match between Alcaraz and Tiafoe, The first African American man To reach the US Open semi-finals since my friend The late great tennis player Arthur AsheI did it in 1972. lost tiafoe to Alcaraz in a heated fight, but his strong overall performance in the Open Championship put the sports world on the know that he might be the next great American player to watch.

Harry Edwards

Now that the Grand Slams are over and we can assess the year in tennis, it is remarkable that the 2022 US Open was bracketed by the achievements of two highly successful black players, while still It is overwhelmingly white sports.

At Serena Williams, the US Open provided a fitting platform for the tennis legend let down Historic career at Tiafoe, she had a talented young man up-and-coming with all the promise in the world. Both players have had to overcome economic hardships to succeed in a sport with a history of racial exclusion, one Historically not nice to black players.

Serena’s Story – She was trained as a child by her father with her sister Venus on General Courts in Compton, California – Well known.

Tiafoe was so Introduction More difficult scribble tennis, which he learned to play in the same stadiums that his father – an immigrant from war-torn Sierra Leone – helped build as a member of the construction crew. Later, his father became a maintenance worker at the facility, giving Tiafoe access to the facilities, equipment, and training he would need to thrive in the sport.

LeBron James tweeted Encouraging words for Tiafoe after his stunning fourth-round victory over tennis star Rafael Nadal. Former First Lady Michelle Obama Turning to watch the exciting semi-final match on Friday that finally Lost to the Carazas did NBA player Bradley Beal and A unit of other supporters.

But in no way should we mistake the Tiafoe saga as a sign that the demographic profile of the sport, especially as it relates to the men’s game, is changing. Historically, the term “whites only” on tennis courts did not only refer to clothing, As one sports writer said,.

Coordinated change can happen in the sport, if a concerted effort is made to make it happen, and not enough has happened to change the demographic picture of tennis. This is in sharp contrast to other popular sports.

Black athletes now make up nearly Three-quarters of the NBA playersDuring the first half of the twentieth century – until 1951 – professional basketball was the prevalent All white game. The same can be said of professional football and baseball, which sent the first black players of the modern era in 1946 And the 1947Straight.

However, these team sports have an advantage when it comes to diversification that individual sports do not. Black players in the formerly all-white locker rooms are becoming more and more prominent both professionally and collectively at a time when political and societal desegregation has expanded.

Once black players began participating in accessory numbers in team sports from which they had previously been excluded – they literally “changed the game”, bringing with them a culture-driven sports style of play learned in the urban centers of America.

Once this style of play took hold, professional basketball and soccer coaches, owners, and team coaches felt compelled to recruit more black athletes, particularly in soccer in such locations as the running back and broad reception, where African-American players enjoyed a culture-driven” advantage” in their sport and playing style.

Black players in these sports had what I call “transactional power”: their skills were in such high demand that the cost of removing black athletes from the locker room outweighed the value of their inclusion on college and professional teams.

You can see this same phenomenon more clearly today with the young black quarterbacks, the athletes, the mobile, who are changing the way this position is played. Coaches and scouts in the NFL are always looking for the next Patrick Mahomes or else Lamar Jackson As a quarterback – it was previously a position that was off-limits to African Americans.

It’s clear that professional tennis leaders have created programs to try and spark interest in communities of color. The United States Tennis Association has built a Beginner Program NetworkAnd the Created by Arthur Ashe In the 1960s to introduce the game to underserved communities. These types of efforts are great, as far as you go. Sports experience at any level can be formative – even transformative – in the lives of young athletes.

But such experiences – no matter how sincere the purpose and how well funded may be – are never enough to guarantee broad access and opportunities at the highest levels of competition and achievement. It takes years of financial investment and extensive tutelage from a young age, the kind of instruction that Tiafoe received on the tennis court in his home and that Williams received from her father. The exposure to the game that the USTA provides to young players is not nearly enough to achieve the same results.

Nor are such efforts entirely at odds with the well-established and deeply rooted tradition of black exclusion in tennis culture, which cannot be overstated. she has impeded gradual change At every level of the sport.

There is little pressure on the tennis esports associations or any other governing governing authority to make the game more accessible to black players. And to be honest about it, the sport is in essence defined by a kind of country club elitism that goes against greater inclusivity. or like 1 author for Vice In other words, tennis remains “perhaps the last world event to remain fiercely white in its sensitivity and its participants”.

The desegregation of America’s locker rooms in prestigious team sports did not occur in terms of morality or fairness. It didn’t happen because it was “the right thing to do”.

League officials who run major sports—often under political pressure due to broader societal change and by pressure from the black press and African American leaders—increasingly considered it beneficial to allow black players to routinely display their talents in the formerly “white-only” mainstream team sports. “.

In contrast, you have a gentle individual like Tiafoe, who for all his great skills on the court swims against the tide, and in tennis almost alone. In some ways it was his poverty – not privilege – that provided him unconventional path for this sport.

Many white tennis players say they grew up playing the sport; tiafu literally brought up On the tennis court, he lives for a while with his father in a reserve office at the tennis facility his father helped maintain. It is a unique situation, one that is unlikely to be repeated.

There is, of course, a chicken or egg side to the problem of black tennis. There would be more black champions if African Americans had greater access to tennis, particularly in urban areas, along with the right training and equipment. And if the tennis world sees that more black champions can emerge from such settings, they might do more to invest in providing more opportunities for young players in those communities.

Could Tiafoe provide such a spark? He said He hopes to be able to inspire other African Americans to take up the sport. “At the end of the day I love it because of Francis Tiafoe there are a lot of people of color playing tennis. That’s obviously a goal for me. That’s why I’m here trying so hard,” he told members of the press during his US Open run.

A commendable feeling and perhaps it will work. But everything I’ve learned from decades of studying Black’s experience tells me that his breakthrough won’t be enough to undo decades of institutional culture in a sport that has historically been recalcitrant to change.

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