Monday, July 6, 2009


Last Thursday, I posted up this statement on my Facebook status, "LaMar 'Primetime' Gafford is saying this...the Williams sisters and Tiger Woods have done more in non-major sports for Blacks than anyone else, hands down!", and the comments were pretty good. One guy agreed with me, but another girl disagreed with me. However, she brought up a good point. She said, "Arthur Ashe paved the way for African-Americans in tennis", which was also very true and it actually made me modify my statement to include the pioneers of the two sports as well. Also, seeing that we were captivated with a Serena/Venus Wimbeldon final, along with Tiger winning the AT&T National tournament over the weekend, this would be the absolute best time to delve into that topic.

First, I want to say that my status was actually true in someways. Tiger, Venus, and Serena give many blacks (and many others) a reason to follow, watch, and play tennis, and that comes with them winning different tournaments.

Woods has won 68 PGA tournaments, including 14 major tournaments, since he started playing professionally in 1996. His winning performance and his emotional hug to his father Earl after in the 1997 Masters in Augusta, Ga. captivated a new, fresh, and young audience that which in turn generated more revenue for the sport. Now granted, there are still not any blacks on the PGA Tour except for Woods, but it takes time. According to NBC Sports, since the PGA Tour started its First Tee program to target minorities and other inner city youth, Blacks have made up 27 percent of the 450,000 participants in the program, a sign that change is coming as long as there is positive development and growth.

Combined, the Williams sisters have won 75 tournaments and 18 Grand Slam events in singles play since their debuts (Venus in 1994 and Serena in 1995). They have constantly been a beacon of light for not just other blacks, but many women and Americans during their dominance during this decade. However, like Woods, since their debuts there has been little black participation on the grandest stage as James Blake is the only other regular on either the ATP or WTA Tours. I don't know if any one of the two tours are actively targeting the inner city youth about tennis like what the PGA is doing with golf, but at my school, the University of Louisiana at Monroe, we have one black tennis player that is great, and also I see some black students and youth play at one of our nearby tennis courts on campus, meaning again that change will come soon as long as the interests are there.

That can be said with their pioneers 25-50 years ago. In golf, there were not many blacks that set firsts like Lee Elder. Elder won 4 PGA Tour events in his career and was the first black to participate in the Masters when he did so in 1975. There were also Pete Brown (the first black PGA Tour winner), Charlie Sifford (the first black to receive a PGA Tour card), Calvin Peete, Jim Dent, and Jim Thorpe, all of who paved the way just so that Woods would not have to encounter death treats like they all had to encounter. On the tennis side, there was no greater black player than Arthur Ashe, who won 33 titles and won three Grand Slam events (the Australian, Wimbeldon, and the U.S. Opens), and was also a civil rights icon after his playing days. Althea Gibson was another standout as a tennis icon as she won five Grand Slam events despite having to go through discrimination as well. Both success stories inspired players like Yannick Noah (1983 French Open champion, and the 2nd black to win a Grand Slam), Lori McNeil, Zina Garrison, Chanda Rubin, and MailVai Washington (just to name a few), and that enabled the Williams sisters to take the game into new heights.

All in all, the pioneers of the game had someone to follow them along in order to get the ball rolling, and while Woods and the Williams sisters are winning at a pace not experienced by many blacks before in their respective sports, we must remember the ones who put them in that position and gave them that inspiration. Also, with the both of them doing well, it may inspire the next generation of black golfers and/or tennis player to do even better or to prove that the sport that they play can indeed be a game that they can play and that the stereotypes will not even matter anymore.

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