Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why do so few African Americans play tennis professionally?


As I was covering the Indianapolis Tennis Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana last weekend I was wondering where was where was James Blake, Donald Young and. Well, in terms of African American representation Blake and Young are it. On the men’s ATP tour there are few if any up and coming African Americans to speak of in the world of professional tennis.

As I scoured the grounds viewing matches and people watching between matches I noticed there were very few African Americans.

I wondered to myself: why are so few African Americans in professional tennis?

Well, one of the key components to understand why African Americans are underrepresented is socio-economic status. Tennis is an elite country club sport. Generally it takes a great deal of money to excel professionally in tennis. One must consistently take lessons, attend camps, and if you show promise hire a coach.

Also, there’s a lack of African American prototypes at the highest levels of tennis to emulate. Yes, we have the Williams sisters on the WTA tour. Their dominance over the last decade has been exceptional but their greatness has seduced many to think there are more African Americans than what there really are. The same phenomenon exists in the other country club sport golf. There’s Tiger Woods but whom else?

Grass roots programs simply aren’t producing potential African American champions. The latter has a lot to do with the aspiring see in the media. When the NBA and NFL are 78 and 68 percent African American respectively chances are African Americans will gravitate towards those sports as youths because of the abundance of prototypes.

I also believe the root of the problem has a lot to do with institutionalized racism: it’s the rudimentary and fundamental cause for the racism that currently exists in society that has ultimately infiltrated American sport. Just like in society African Americans were systematically barred from sports participation with whites. The latter ultimately sets the stage for where we are today in terms of racism in sport, particularly tennis.

What can be done to bridge the racial divide in tennis?

I first point to the USTA. I don’t think the USTA had done enough to truly promote the game to people of color. While there is the NJTL (National Junior Tennis League) there aren’t a lot of programs designed to induce African Americans to more like James Blake and the Williams’ sisters as opposed to LeBron James and LaDanian Tomlinson.

If I were I charge I’d get Blake, the Williams sisters’ along with Richard Williams and begin a strong campaign to promote the game in Urban America. Tennis is can be cool. Youths being exposed to the African American stars on the game can surely induce participation. The prototypes aren’t plentiful but they have surely achieved enough where their voices will be heard. But there must be a willingness on all levels to commit to the cause.

What are the potential benefits?

It increases fan interest while simultaneously expanding the dream formation of aspiring African American youth. Variety is the spice of life. Variety also makes money. More money means more opportunities for everyone involved but ultimately it benefits the sport of tennis.

But then I regained consciousness. As I continued the scurry the courts watching the matches and thinking about tennis from an African American vantage point I ultimately came to this conclusion: while my thoughts are noble in theory in reality it’s currently not very feasible in increasing African Americans in tennis.

Why?

One, it will take unified effort on all levels from all people. It will be next to impossible to rally the USTA, African Americans in professional tennis, and youths to collectively rally around a common goal, ignite change and make it happen. Everyone has to want it. Personally I don’t think the inclination is there.

In my world nothing is impossible. True change starts with the first step. Man wasn’t supposed to walk on the moon, Babe Ruth’s career homerun record was supposed to endure forever, and many thought America would never have an African American president. But we all know man did walk on the moon, Hank Aaron first bested Ruth, and we have an African American as president.

Why not more African Americans in tennis?

Anything can be done but it must be accompanied with a plan, commitment, and unity.

Nothing fails but a try.

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