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Remembering Arthur Ashe: A Gentleman, a Revolutionary

The Arthur Ashe I knew was not only a tennis player, an activist, a thinker, a writer; he was also a man of uncommon grace and power. On this, the 10th anniversary of his death — Arthur died on Feb. 6, 1993 — I want to express my sentiments about my good friend of 23 years.

When I first met him, he was a skinny young man with a whippy tennis game. He had great wrist action in his strokes, on both his forehand and his backhand. He had a tremendous arsenal of shots; he could hit his backhand about seven different ways. He was shy, introverted, but he was a risk taker. He was never afraid to take a chance to win a point. Even then, there was a touch of the quiet revolutionary in him.

As he matured, he developed into a genuinely intellectual man: inquisitive, studious, a man who loved learning. This side of his nature is what led him to champion so many causes, rationally and reasonably. To say that Arthur Ashe transcended tennis is an understatement.

Yet it was tennis that remained a passion. Arthur was focused on being the best player he could be. He achieved that zenith in 1975 with his victory over Jimmy Connors to win Wimbledon — in my opinion, his greatest triumph on the court. That match remains a classic example of brains over brawn. Connors's combination of power and consistency was considered invincible, and yet Arthur diffused that force, thinking and calculating his way to the signature championship of his exceptional 15-year career.

Of course, Arthur always knew that he carried more obligations than merely winning tennis matches. He knew that he was representing his race at all times. The demands of such a burden are difficult to fathom, certainly for those of us who have never experienced it. Through it all, Arthur remained patient, always willing to give of his time to meet with people, to sign autographs or to conduct a clinic for underprivileged kids.

I was surprised when I read Arthur's quote that the toughest obstacle he had faced was not his two open heart surgeries, or even AIDS, but rather, as he put it, "being born black in America." We had a long discussion about it. He told me that regardless of how prominent you were, each day every black person in this country was made aware that he or she was black. Arthur had faced racism as a young man growing up in Richmond, Va., and regardless of his success, he continued to have to deal with it his whole life.

His commitment to making a difference, along with his sense of justice, led him to become a leader in the anti-apartheid movement. He assumed the role in his usual intellectual way. He first visited South Africa in 1973, largely as a learning experience. At the time, he was denounced by the black community, much of which felt that he was being used as a pawn by the South African government. But Arthur believed that you could not speak out against apartheid unless you knew something about it. He also thought it was important for young blacks there to see a free black man, one of accomplishment and stature in his chosen field.

Arthur's sense of responsibility to his race, again coupled with his intellectual curiosity, led to one of his proudest achievements. While attempting to research the heritage of black athletes, he found no definitive work on the subject. In typical Ashe fashion, he set out to produce one. He invested three years of his time and money and employed three research assistants to write "A Hard Road to Glory," a three-volume history of the black athlete in America. That work, published in 1993, is a milestone in the field of historical sports writing; the script for the television version, which Arthur also wrote, won three Emmys.

For all his public achievements, I was always struck, in my personal relationship with him, by his overriding sense of trust. That trust pervaded my professional dealings with him as his lawyer for 23 years. We never had a formal contract. After an initial letter of agreement in 1970, he and I renewed each year with a handshake. Trust came naturally to him. He strongly believed — and we would debate this long and often — that there was a lot more good in people than bad.

But that trusting nature belied his toughness. Clearly, Arthur was tough on the tennis court, but off the court, he was just as strong-willed. One need look no further than the strong, unpopular stands he took on issues like more stringent academic standards for college athletes. Often swimming against the tide, Arthur always chose what he believed to be the moral and principled course.

And, obviously, Arthur had to be a man of great courage to deal with his medical traumas. Not once, when he learned that he had AIDS, did he say, "Why me?" He felt that same question could be asked of all the wonderful things he enjoyed in life. Why did he win Wimbledon? Why did he marry a beautiful, talented woman, Jeanne, who was such a major force in his life, and become father to a loving, precious child, Camera? No. When it came to adversity, Arthur preferred to pose the question differently. "Why not me?" he would ask.

When our group was leaving South Africa in 1973, someone handed my wife, Carole, a newspaper. Rolled inside it was a poem from Don Matera, a South African poet and freedom fighter who had recently been banned and was therefore prohibited from meeting with Arthur in public. I think that poem really captures the essence of Arthur Ashe.

I listened deeply when you spoke

About the step-by-step revolution

Of a gradual harvest,

Tendered by the rains of tolerance. . . .

and I loved you brother —

Not for your quiet philosophy

But for the rage in your soul,

Trained to be rebuked or

summoned. . . .

These lines reveal the true Arthur Ashe: a man of quiet philosophy, with a raging, noble soul — a man I loved so much. We may never see his like again.

Donald L. Dell was the United States Davis Cup captain in 1968-69 when Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Bobby Lutz and Charley Pasarell won the cup. He was chairman of Pro Serv from 1970 to 1997, and is currently a senior vice president at Clear Channel Entertainment.


Arthur Ashe: Still making a difference ten years later

By Greg Laub,

“When I am dead and everyone who knew me is dead and nobody remembers I ever existed, what difference will I have made? None. None at all.”

That is a quote from the film About Schmidt, in which Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a 66-year-old retiree who wonders if it is possible to make a difference in the world once we are gone.

Ten years after Arthur Ashe’s death, we see just how possible it is.

February 6, 1993 was the day that Ashe left us, and after a lifetime of selflessness, he has also left behind a legacy that continues to make a difference today.

An illustration of the impact Arthur Ashe’s life would have on the world was seen just days after his death, when thousands from all over the world, including great leaders like Jesse Jackson, Ron Brown and Andrew Young, traveled great distances to attend his funeral in St. John’s Cathedral in New York City.

The words spoken about Ashe that day, and every mention of him since, seem to resonate with the same integrity and character found in Ashe’s own words. His ideals and morals are felt every day in and out of the tennis world, as they shine prominently in all who were touched by him, and echo into the hearts of others.

Arthur Ashe believed one person could make a difference in the world of poverty, racism and social stereotyping. If he could only see now what a difference his life has made, even ten years after his death.

He would see that his efforts to increase funding for AIDS research have helped bring AIDS awareness to the level it’s at today, where compassion has taken the place of paranoia, where neglect in the 80's has been replaced by today's funding, such as President Bush’s current $15 billion proposal to fight AIDS in Africa.

He would see his Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which he started shortly before his death, continue to deliver innovative health and research initiatives in Brooklyn, and often be considered the model that is replicated by urban communities throughout the nation.

He would see a South Africa that is long free from apartheid, and he would know that his hard work and early protests, as well as his huge influence on black celebrities to form Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid, were enormously responsible for bringing the segregation and poverty issues closer to the public eye.

He would see the restoration of democracy in Haiti, spurred on by TransAfrica Forum, a group he helped support at the time of his arrest in Washington for protesting Haitian immigration policies, and he would see plans for a 2004 Haitian cruise from the Ashe Cultural Center in New Orleans, an important milestone in honoring the historical significance of Haiti to all people of African descent.

He would see the Arthur Ashe Monument in his Richmond hometown, where a lifelike statue of Ashe stands on Monument Avenue, facing statues of confederate men such as Robert E. Lee, a tennis racket raised in his left hand and books held high in his right, children reaching upward at his feet, a reminder of his many inspiring achievements inscribed below.

He would see Arthur Ashe Stadium, home to the U.S. Open, where he became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title; he would see the 72,000 square-foot Arthur Ashe Athletic Center continuing to encourage underprivileged youth; he would see schools all over the country incorporate his name to help encourage individual learning and potential.

He would see the annual Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar Award, which Black Issues in Higher Education honors every year since his death to those students that display the unique combination of academic, personal and athletic achievement that Ashe demonstrated throughout his life.

He would see the four men from flight 93 who sacrificed their lives on 9/11 honored with the annual Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the 2002 ESPYs, an award that is normally reserved for a member of the sports community who has exemplified courage, spirit and determination to help others despite personal hardship.

He would see all the doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, accountants, tennis teaching professionals, and business executives that came from the National Junior Tennis League he co-founded in 1968, an ever-expanding program that continues to make a significant impact on the lives of many of our nation’s youth by developing character and life values through tennis.

He would see Venus and Serena Williams come out of that same NJTL program and dominate the sports world – on and off the court – and continue along the path of courage, grace and intelligence that Ashe cleared before them.

He would see bright young stars like James Blake, who was inspired to pursue tennis after Ashe spoke to his Harlem Junior Tennis League Program, burst onto the tennis scene, grace magazine covers and just recently be named the senior member of the 2003 U.S. Davis Cup team – forty years after Ashe himself broke the color barrier in U.S. Davis Cup play.

He would see interest in tennis amongst young African-Americans continue to grow at an amazing pace around the world, including almost twice as much participation in the past two years in the USA Tennis 1-2-3 program.

He would see athletes of all races follow his lead and use sports to make statements about society; statements that are more far-reaching than the games themselves could ever be.

Most significantly, Arthur Ashe would see his legacy continue to grow as time goes on.

A 22-year-old Ashe once said, "It's my life, and a hundred years from now nobody will know or care about it."

That may be true for the Warren Schmidt's of the world. But it’s different for those that make a difference.

:cool: :) :cool:
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