Tag Archives: Tennis

LGBT History Month 2013: Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers

5 Jun

CollinsRogersWhat a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.

Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.

Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.

Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.

The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!

The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 27, Renée Richards

27 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in transgender rights and LGBT athletics. Renée Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York in 1934. She grew up, in her own words “a nice Jewish boy.” Raskind excelled at tennis from early on, and was ranked among the top-10 Eastern and national juniors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, serving as captain of the high school team and again for the team at Yale. After Yale, Raskind went to medical school at the University of Rochester. After a short stint in the Navy, the doctor established a career as an eye surgeon while still pursuing tennis on the side.

Raskind realized that her gender identity did not match the male gender assigned to her at birth and began to explore her options in the mid-60s. She traveled Europe dressed as a woman and consulted a physician about reassignment surgery. She did not transition at that time, however, and returned to the U.S. where she married and had a son. She then decided to transition and did so in 1975.

Richards wanted to continue to play tennis but was met with resistance. The U.S. Tennis Association barred her from the U.S. Open in 1976, requiring her to take a chromosome test. Unwilling to accept this discrimination, she sued the USTA. In 1977, the New York Supreme Court handed her a win. She played women’s tennis professionally until 1981. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at the U.S. Open in 1977 with Betty Ann Stuart — the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve — and winning the 35-and-over women’s singles. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her courage and drive have been the subject of two films. Second Serve, a made-for-television film from 1986 starred Vanessa Redgrave who received two award nominations for the role. The film was based on her autobiography. ESPN made the documentary Renée in 2011. No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, was her second book, published in 2007.

Renée Richards is a true pioneer. There are very few out athletes, and fewer still who maintain professional success while out. Like her contemporary, baseball’s Glenn Burke, Richards proved that despite the discrimination it is possible to succeed. She remains perhaps the most successful active, professional, out athlete.

Black History 2012: Venus and Serena Williams

5 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate two champion athletes, sisters and tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams.

Venus was born in June 1980. She is the first African-American woman to be ranked #1 by the Women’s Tennis Association, a ranking she has held three times. She has won three Olympic medals and is one of the most-winning professional tennis players of all time. Her 21 Grand Slam titles ties her for twelfth on the all time list and is more than any other active female player except for her younger sister. With 43 career singles titles, Williams leads active players on the WTA Tour. She is also one of only two active WTA players to have made the finals of all four Grand Slams, the other player being her sister.

Serena was born in September 1981. She was the second African-American woman ranked #1 by the WTA five times. She won two Olympic gold medals and has won more career prize money than any other female athlete in history. Her 27 Grand Slam titles place her ninth on the all-time list; she has won more Major titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles than any other active player, male or female.

Both women also focus on making the world a better place. Following in the footsteps of Billie Jean King, Venus has fought with Wimbledon and the French Open to gain equal pay for athletes regardless of sex. It is a sad testament to sexism that these efforts have still been unsuccessful. The sister’s strength speaks volumes as they are examples of the intersections of oppression challenging a national discourse and working to make the world a better place. Serena does significant charity work, focusing on at-risk youth. As part owners of the Miami Dolphins, the sisters are also the first African-American women to participate in ownership of an NFL franchise.

Happy Birthday, Billie Jean King

22 Nov

Happy Birthday, Billie Jean King

Happy Birthday, Billie Jean King.  King captured the world when in 1973 when she  pummeled misogynistic Bobby Riggs on the tennis court.  In a match that became known as The Battle of the Sexes, King defeated Riggs.  Riggs whose mantra was: No broad can beat me.  Apparently, Riggs was hatched and had no mother.  Do men really say things like this?

I also want to celebrate King for her dedication to breaking down gender stereotypes and for her advocacy for equality for the LGBT community.  King showed great courage in coming out as lesbian and helped to increase visibility and helped pave the way for other famous women to be out and proud.

Aside from serving as a Board Member for Elton John’s AIDS Foundation, King has also been honored by the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and the Lambda Legal Foundation.  To commemorate the 35th Anniversary of her defeating Riggs, King released her book, Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes.  In 2009, President Obama presented King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Happy Birthday, Ms. King and thank you for being a strong pioneer in the continued fight to end gender discrimination and to fight for equality for the LGBT community.  You have an amazing legacy!

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