In the September 1994 issue of Sports Illustrated, S. L. Price wrote, “Sport is the American factory for children’s heroes because kids play games; they can relate and be awed. But Ashe was a rarer kind of hero, an example of what to do when playing stops, a role model for adults." Arthur Ashe was certainly a hero to people of all ages and races, and his legacy continues to touch the lives of many today.
From humble beginnings in Richmond, Virginia, Ashe became one of the most prominent tennis players of his time. He graduated at the top of his class from high school and accepted a tennis scholarship to UCLA, where he was first recognized for his tennis ability at the national level. By the time he graduated in 1966, Ashe had an individual and team NCAA championship under his belt; he was chosen as the first black member of the US Davis Cup team, which defeated Romania for the title; and he earned a #10 world rankingall the while earning a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
During his ten-year professional career, Ashe won three Grand Slam singles titles, including the US Open in 1968, the Australian Open in 1970, and the pinnacle win of his careerWimbledon in 1975. The last title, an upset victory over defending champion Jimmy Connors, was won during one of Ashe’s finest seasons. That year, Ashe became the first black man to be ranked #1 in the world.
When a heart attack prompted his retirement, Ashe continued to be a part of the tennis world as a commentator for HBO and ABC Sports and as a columnist for The Washington Post and Tennis magazine. In 1981, he was selected as captain of the US Davis Cup team. He published his three-volume work titled A Hard Road to Glory in 1988. Additionally, Ashe founded numerous charitable organizations, including the National Junior Tennis League, the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Athlete-Career Connection, and the Safe Passage Foundation.
Ashe was a champion in every sense of the word. He became the tennis world’s leading philosopher and its outspoken conscience, pleading for reason and common sense in the conduct of its affairs. In 1969, along with several other players, Ashe formed the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) to ensure that tennis’ top-ranked players, both black and white, earned prize winnings suitable for a sport that had grown in popularity as much as tennis had. Ashe was elected president of the ATP five years after its formation.
When Ashe was denied the opportunity to play in the South African Open, he emerged as a leader in the movement against racial discrimination. He raised world awareness of apartheid and quickly gained support from numerous prominent individuals and organizations.
For Arthur Ashe, tennis was a means to an end. Although he had a lucrative tennis career, it was always more than personal glory and individual accolades. He used his status as an elite tennis player to speak out against the moral inequalities that existed both in and out of the tennis world. Ashe sincerely wanted to bring about change in the world. What made him stand out was that he became a world champion along the way.
(To Sports Inductees List)