The world is finally beginning to realise black lives matter but tennis seems reluctant to engage
We are going through it at the moment. Coronavirus is not the only pandemic plaguing the globe though. Racism, particularly against black people, is a virus that has been living and breathing in society for centuries.
The recent murder of another unarmed black man by Minneapolis police officers has provided a fatal reminder, but as everyone from tennis players to corporations have offered their voices in the call for justice, the silence from the ATP and WTA has been disheartening.
George Floyd’s murder was caught on camera. Distressing video footage showed an officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd who was crying out for his life on multiple occasions. “I can’t breathe” was the plea, but it heartlessly went ignored.
This latest example of police brutality in America has caused uproar not just in the US, but around the globe. People of all races, nationalities and backgrounds are outraged. There have been protests across America and the wider world including England, Brazil and Canada.
Black tennis players have been using their platforms to speak out. Americans Coco Gauff and Sachia Vickery were among the first. “I am in tears watching this video,” 16-year-old Gauff wrote, “every day innocent people are dying because of our skin color. No one deserves to die like that. I just can’t believe this. This needs to stop.”
Vickery, 25, quote tweeted a poignant post that included a picture of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who famously kneeled for the USA national anthem in protest against racial injustice and police brutality in 2016. “This was sick to watch. He said I can’t breathe for 5 minutes until he died. Anyone still confused why Kaepernick kneels?”
Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka joined protesters on the ground in Minneapolis after tweeting: “Just because it isn’t happening to you doesn’t mean it isn’t happening at all.” Alongside Gauff and Vickery, 22-year-old Osaka, who was recently announced as the highest-paid female athlete of all time, has been among the most outspoken athletes from the sport on the matter.
From the men’s tour, Felix Auger-Aliassime posted a heartfelt video on his Instgram page, telling the story of when his Togolese father was racially profiled in Canada because he was driving a nice car. Along with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, the 19-year-old said: “I truly hope recent events will lead us steps closer to equal treatment around the world.”
Frances Tiafoe, 22, and his girlfriend Ayan Broomfield created a powerful protest video featuring a host of black players, coaches and figures from tennis to raise awareness of racial injustice. The ‘Racquets down, hands up’ video included the likes of Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Heather Watson, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and James Blake among many others.
With so much content being shared by black tennis players in light of recent events, it is easy to notice the passive accounts. “‘Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter’ Martin Luther King Jr,” read Tiafoe’s accompanying caption.
Serena, the 23-time Grand Slam champion, posted the same video to her Twitter followers on Monday and wrote: “It starts with all of us. Thank you @FTiafoe.” Yet the WTA shared frivolous content while people were protesting and having discussions throughout social media, including during #BlackoutTuesday.
The ATP has been even worse. Where the WTA finally at least started retweeting messages from black players since Wednesday, leaving an incoherent timeline reflecting the confusion around the association’s silence, the ATP pinned Tiafoe’s video tweet on Monday along with the following empty statement: “We support our players and stand together against all forms of discrimination, injustice and racism #TennisForEquality” – worth noting the WTA also quote tweeted Serena’s post with the exact same statement. Lazy!
The official account for men’s professional tennis has shared nothing else related to the #BlackLivesMatter movement since.
Is this instance of playing catch-up a case of better late than never or too little too late? The fact that there are so few professional black tennis players means they need all the support and backing they can get during times like these. You would think the bodies they help profit would be among the first to have their back.
The delayed and lacklustre engagement from the ATP and WTA is a hurtful reminder that black tennis players – and fans – are on their own. These associations clearly do not care about the racial prejudices their black players and audiences have to contend with.
However, seeing black tennis players come together for Tiafoe’s video is an encouraging reminder that at least they have each other to collaborate and affect change. But the last few days have served as a calling card for the ATP and WTA to do better.