Sun, September 28
All that Althea Gibson achieved, and the meaning behind her achievements, never received the recognition it should have.
In every sport there are trailblazers we look to and say, "If it weren't for this person, I might not be where I am today." Everyone has said that about Arthur Ashe, but about a decade before Ashe was winning Grand Slam titles, Gibson had already won them -- the first African-American to ever do so.
But when she was winning, tennis majors didn't receive the worldwide attention they get today. As a result, many young tennis players today don't know much about Gibson, who broke barriers when the sport was still mostly played in country clubs.
I met Gibson only once, at the U.S. Open in the mid-1990s. I was introduced to her while we both watched the same tennis match. At the time, I don't think people around us really knew who she was. But I felt honored to meet a woman who had achieved what I dreamed of achieving, but ultimately never did. She achieved greatness in an era in the United States when it was very difficult for a black person, much less a black woman, to excel in sports -- much less tennis -- and became one of the best of her time.
Every athlete faces pressure to succeed. But not often does an athlete carry the weight of their race in a era when most tennis fans probably wanted to see her fail. I get inspiration today because of all she did.
As a young man, I always was compared to Arthur Ashe. It wasn't until I got older and more mature that I realized what Althea Gibson meant to the sport and to me. Even though she lived the later years of her life out of the public eye, I hope she knew how she influenced the game of tennis and the people who knew her. It's a sad day for tennis fans and sports fans all over the world when a such a legend passes away.
MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.