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Ashe reaches the end of his hard road to glory.

Tennis legend Arthur Robert Ashe Jr., who died of pneumonia on Feb. 6 at age 49, was a world-class gentleman-warrior who used his success in sports to combat racial discrimination and then broaden awareness about AIDS. Even when he learned last year that an article on his affliction would be published by USA Today, Ashe coped quietly with a disease that terrorizes the world and never lost perspective. Asked whether having AIDS was the toughest thing he ever had to deal with, Ashe said no: "Racism is."

Ashe, the only black man to win the Wimbledon, United States Open and Australian Open tennis tournaments, will be remembered for the smooth, focused style with which he approached life's challenges. Ashe overpowered opponents with principles as well as a devastating backhand. His unmatched professionalism became a model for achievement and service to humanity beyond the sports world.

Ashe's pneumonia was the result of complications caused by AIDS. Doctors say he contracted HIV through blood transfusions during one of two open-heart operations in 1979 and 1983. Ashe was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS in 1988, when he underwent brain surgery. He had remained relatively healthy for four years, but in the seven months before his death, his health began to fade. He suffered a minor heart attack last September, and in January, he won his first bout with pneumonia. He is survived by his wife Jeanne Marie Moutoussamy-Ashe and his 6-year-old daughter Camera Elizabeth.

Born in Richmond, Va., in 1943, Ashe first played tennis on segregated courts near his home a year after his mother died in 1949. And although he came to prominence during the turbulent 1960s, he did not identify with the protests and, sometimes, violent confrontations of that era. Instead, the gifted athlete, with a B.S. in business administration from U.C.L.A., waged what could be termed a "refined revolution." As the only black competing in a sport dominated by affluent whites, he changed attitudes about what black athletes could achieve. Intellect, integrity and reason were his weapons - and his boyish-bookish appearance, extraordinary self-control and unshakable convictions became powerful forces for change.

Ashe used his racket to take swings at discrimination both in this country and abroad. In 1963, Ashe became the first black named to the United States Davis Cup team. He won the United States Open in 1968, becoming the first black to win a Grand Slam event (one of four major tournaments in tennis).

Ashe won the Australian Open in 1970, and also that year, he steered a controversial campaign to play tennis in South Africa. The South African government denied his request for a visa, as Ashe was one of the first to publicly speak out against apartheid, but he persisted. He was granted a visa three years later and competed in the South African Open, where he lost in the finals. Before leaving South Africa, Ashe worked with local groups to integrate the country, and he introduced tennis to many black South Africans.

He continued to participate in anti-apartheid protests and rack up tennis victories. In 1975, he became the first black man to win the men's singles championship at Wimbledon. During his career, he won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the Australian and French Opens. He also won three championships in 10 years as a member of the United States Davis Cup team. Ashe retired from tennis in 1980 as the game's first black millionaire and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.

But Ashe had victories off the court as well. He spoke out against unfairness and discrimination against athletes in general and African-American athletes in particular. In 1974, Ashe helped found the Association of Professionals Tour, a players' union that he headed until 1979. In 1988, Ashe published the three-volume set, A Hard Road To Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. In 1989, he was part of the investment group, led by then-BE 100s CEO Bertram M. Lee and real estate developer Peter C.B. Bynoe, that purchased the National Basketball Association's Denver Nuggets, making it the first black-controlled major league sports franchise. The last installment of his column in the Washington Post, written days before his death and published posthumously, focused on the commitment that is necessary to overcome racism and provide fair access to management opportunities to African-Americans in major league sports.

Ashe conducted numerous tennis clinics for underprivileged children, and in 1988, began establishing programs in cities such as Atlanta, Newark, N.J., Detroit and Indianapolis. He organized the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS last year, kicking it off with a $5 million fund-raiser.

He fought for what he believed in right to the end. Last September, he was arrested in Washington, D.C., while protesting the United States' policy on Haitian refugees. New York Mayor David N. Dinkins says of his longtime friend, "Words cannot suffice to capture a career as glorious, a life as fully lived, or a commitment to justice as firm and as fair as was his."
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Title Annotation:tennis player Arthur Ashe
Author:Scott, Matthew S.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:842
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