Former professional tennis player James Blake has recorded a new video in which he talks eloquently about the ways professional tennis players and the ATP Tour can become more demonstrably welcoming for gay athletes.
In a recording for last month’s pre-U.S. Open event, “Open Playbook: Being Queer & Out in Pro Tennis”, Blake talks about
“The best way to positoin yourself as an ally on tour is just be welcoming, welcoming of everyone whether you agree or disagree with any of their thoughts, any of their ideas, anything they do on or off the court.”
It’s a great message. While we know that LGBTQ inclusion spaces are built by specifically addressing acceptance of different sexual orientations and gender identities, Blake’s comment reflects a powerful step in building an inclusive locker room. When people feel they can say whatever they feel without being judged, that welcoming environment extends to other areas and can make anyone, including a gay athlete, better feel like he can be himself.
Blake also talked specifically about having gay former professional athletes like Michael Sam, Jason Collins and tennis’ own Brian Vahaly speak with tennis players at the ATP Tour University. It’s a no-brainer step for the tour to take.
“The impact and poignancy of what James has to say cannot be understated,” said Nick McCarvel, the out tennis commentator who organized the New York event for which Blake recorded the video. “Here’s a former top-5 player, a current tournament director of one of the biggest events in the world and a respected voice in the sport saying not only that he encourages acceptance in the sport but also that the tour needs to do more to educate it’s players. I commend him for it, and I’m so thankful that he wants to help push this issue forward in tennis.”
Various people across tennis have expressed support for McCarvel’s U.S. Open LGBTQ inclusion event, including Kevin Anderson and Roger Federer. The event was so successful that McCarvel is already planning to host a second event in 2019.
This isn’t the first time Blake has spoken out about the need for equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“I think we need to embrace the fact that there are people that want to live their life the way they want to live their life and should be given that right,” Blake said a few years ago. “I’m happy that [The Defense of Marriage Act] was overturned. I’m happy that things like that are getting better. But we’re definitely not at the finish line.”
It’s not surprising he might speak out about all of this. The interracial athlete was one of the few men of color on the ATP Tour while he was playing and is well aware of social-justice issues. He was also famously mistakenly arrested by an NYPD officer, inciting accusations of racism.
Blake is currently the tournament director for the Miami Open.