Arthur Ashe (July 10, 1943 – February 6, 1993) was a top ranked tennis player in the 1960s and ’70s, despite experiencing the slings of segregation, which did not allow him to participate in the sport, growing up in Richmond, VA. Tennis was not a sport I much paid attention to until Ashe came on the scene.
He was the #2 ranked men’s player in 1976, and he was competitive at many levels of the sport, from making the Davis Cup team in 1963, to being the only black man to win the singles title at the US Open (1968), Australian Open (1970), or Wimbledon (1975) v. Jimmy Connors, against whom he had never won previously.
Ashe was committed to issues of social justice, health and humanitarian issues. He fought against South African apartheid, and US crackdown against Haitian refugees, and was arrested in protests regarding both these issues. In 1988, Ashe published a three-volume book titled A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete, which was more important to him than his tennis titles.
Ashe’s mother had suffered from cardiovascular disease before she died at the age of 27. His father had suffered a first heart attack at the age of 55. Arthur suffered a heart attack in July 1979, while holding a tennis clinic in New York. “In view of his high level of fitness as an athlete, his condition drew attention to the hereditary aspect of heart disease.” He went through two rounds of heart surgery, in 1979, and after developing chest pains, in 1983.
“In September 1988, Ashe was hospitalized after experiencing paralysis in his right arm… [Eventually] Doctors discovered that Ashe was HIV positive. Ashe and his doctors believed he contracted the virus from blood transfusions he received during his second heart surgery. He and his wife decided to keep his illness private for the sake of their daughter, who was then two years old.
“In 1992, a friend of Ashe’s who worked for USA Today heard that he was ill and called Ashe to confirm the story. Ashe decided to preempt USA Today’s plans to publish the story about his illness and, on April 8, 1992, publicly announced he had contracted HIV. Ashe blamed USA Today for forcing him to go public with the news but also stated that he was relieved that he no longer had to lie about his illness…”
I own a copy of Daddy and Me: A Photo Story of Arthur Ashe and His Daughter Camera by his wife Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, a sweet book published after his death. It is a “photographic portrait of Ashe’s relationship with his six-year-old daughter during his illness, accompanied by the child’s reflections on living with and helping her father.”
“After Ashe went public…, he began to work to raise awareness about AIDS and advocated teaching sex education and safe sex. He also fielded questions about his own diagnosis… In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on World AIDS Day, December 1, 1992, he addressed the growing need for AIDS awareness and increased research funding saying, ‘We want to be able to look back and say to all concerned that we did what we had to do, when we had to do it, and with all the resources required.’
“Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. Two months before his death, he founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health to help address issues of inadequate health care delivery and was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year. He also spent much of the last years of his life writing his memoir Days of Grace, finishing the manuscript less than a week before his death.”
The main stadium for the US Open since 1997 is the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York City.