This morning, my husband, daughter and I were puttering around the kitchen, each of us foraging for breakfast and wearing that glass-eyed, slack-jawed expression that I’ve come to call Quarantine Face. Quarantine Face is what you get after far too many hours looking at the same walls with far too many hours still to go. A whole day’s worth of hours stretching out ahead of you, only broken up with food and dog walks.
But not even dog walks today because it’s raining and my dog detests the rain.
So…just food then.
To brighten the mood, I turned to my zombie-esque family and said, “Hey! TGI Friday!”
I was met with bitter, hollow laughs.
So, yes, I’m tired of quarantining, as I know you all are. What is one to do with a Friday to mark it as something different from, say, Tuesday? Your assignment, in the comments section, is to share the best thing you’ve done on lock-down…that doesn’t involve food. (Seriously, no food. I’ve already gained five pounds.)
But first, before you share your suggestion for a fabulous Friday night in the house, we should talk about that book I was telling you about in my last post, Cecil Harris’s Different Strokes: Serena, Venus, and the Unfinished Black Tennis Revolution.
I have to admit that I dragged my feet a little bit on getting started reading. The problem was not the book. Racial inequality in sports is a worthy subject, and Cecil Harris is a fantastic writer, as you saw in his guest post.
No, the problem is that I, as a comfortably sheltered white person, don’t always want my little bubble pierced. In fact, I almost never want my bubble pierced. I like my bubble. Most days, my bubble and I float along perfectly content, unaware that there is anything outside the bubble, other than a raging pandemic.
I’m not a complete moron, of course. I knew that blacks had been banned from competing and that courts had been segregated. I’d heard of Althea Gibson and even wrote about Arthur Ashe once in this blog. Harris does a nice job profiling the careers of trailblazers Gibson, Ashe and the Williams sisters.
But I’ve been sort of embubbled in thinking these inequalities were largely a thing of the past. Not so. As with other areas of society, racial laws may have changed but other systematic problems endure.
Harris exposes the unequal representation of blacks in the sport’s administrative ranks. No African American has officiated at a single’s final at the U.S. Open—an honor reserved for highly experienced “gold badge” officials—since 1993. Following a lawsuit alleging discrimination, New York’s attorney general required the USTA to create a new position to foster inclusion and diversity. The person the USTA hired? He ended up suing the organization for discrimination.
Blacks are underrepresented among players as well. Harris explains that the USTA devotes its development resources to training facilities and to young players whose parents will commit to the travel and expense of the junior tennis circuit. What the USTA fails to do is grow the game by bringing tennis to the masses. The cost of an elite Florida training academy (up to $80,000 a year) combined with the isolation a young person of color may feel as a minority at one of these centers help explain what keeps tennis a largely white sport.
A number of initiatives have been started to try to address this issue. Dale Caldwell, a former board member with the USTA, has begun laying the groundwork for a new minor league. Called the People Up tour, the circuit will offer players the chance to compete in tournaments closer to home. Tennis is a global sport, and players pay their own costs for travel, hotels, meals, and coaches, with no guarantee of actually earning any money. People Up gives players the opportunity to earn money and ranking points without the expense of travel, meaning tennis can remain a viable option for people without other financial backing.
And in 2018, Kamau Murray, coach of Sloane Stephens, opened the XS Tennis Village on Chicago’s South Side. Sited on the grounds of a former urban housing development, the center provides instruction and mentorship for youth who otherwise wouldn’t be able to develop their game.
Despite the problems that remain, I found Different Strokes an optimistic book, filled with stories of black athletes who beat the odds—and the leaders trying to improve those odds for the next generation. Definitely a good read as we wait for the return of the sport we love. (See how I reconstructed my bubble there?)
Now…what’s the most fun thing you’ve done during lock-down? And what new television show have you discovered? I just started watching Succession—most entertaining!