Though it may seem like the 2013 tennis season just wrapped-up, the world’s elite players are less than a month from converging on the land down under to kick off the 2014 season.
Last year saw the top players on both tours continue to dominate. Serena Williams’ abject dominance has been spectacular to watch, and the sheer talent, physicality, and athleticism shown by Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, and Andy Murray, may never be matched. But with players like Sloane Stephens and Grigor Dimitrov on the rise, 2014 may be the year the guard changes to some extent. I think some variation on both tours would be a welcome change of pace.
Personally, I’m ready for some change in the top tiers of tennis in a different way. On the ATP in particular, there’s one glaring absence that puzzles me: the lack an openly gay player.
Women’s tennis has been gifted with great champions like Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Rennae Stubbs, and Amelie Mauresmo, all of whom are openly gay and enjoyed long, successful careers. Progress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in sports in general was steady over the last year, with the likes of Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers coming out as gay, and with Tom Daley recently announcing he’s dating a man. Yet this topic remains more or less stagnant on the ATP.
It should be noted that American tennis players James Blake, Mardy Fish, and Andy Roddick have all taken on roles as outspoken supporters of the LGBT community by aligning with Athlete Ally (along with Navratilova and Stubbs), a non-profit group fighting homophobia in sports. The tennis world is certainly better off thanks to their activism, but it’s high time for both tours and the ITF to take a fully visible, outward stance in support of inclusion and equality for the LGBT community.
Federer and Murray were both quoted last year as saying that in their opinion most players wouldn’t have a problem with a gay player in the locker room. That’s fine, and certainly the right opinion to purport for an international sports star in 2013. But as we’ve seen with the work that Athlete Ally does, vocal, committed straight allies do a world of good in creating an atmosphere in which gay players (which inevitably exist on the ATP Tour) feel comfortable enough to come out in active competition.
It’s generally agreed upon that most men at the top of the sport have a sense of respect for their fellow players. It’s hard to deny results, and anyone in the top 100 players in the world on both tours deserves to be there, having put in years of intense training, travel, and practice.
And alongside deserving respect for talent and results, all players deserve respect when it comes to their sexuality, as well. The first player to come out who’s a regular at a larger tour, may well receive some backlash in the locker room. But no top player is without a team these days, and that support system will surely remain intact. The global sporting community, LGBT groups, and allies across the world will all be there to support as well.
It’s time for someone to take that step, and show that tennis truly is a welcoming community for all people.
LWOS is proud to have Brian Healey as a contributor. He is the Program and Social Media Coordinator for Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization working to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. He played college tennis for Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.