Gauff Represents A New Era Of American Tennis

“If you can think it, you can do it. If you can dream it, you can do it. Just keep working hard. It won’t come easy and it will seem impossible but if you keep working hard it will definitely happen.” – Coco Gauff

Tennis is a sport that has been historically dominated by white athletes. However, the sport has since been experiencing a massive shift. Today, young Black athletes, exemplified by the prodigious Coco Gauff, are not just participating, but also shining on the world’s largest stages. Their rise not only redefines the face of American tennis but also challenges long-standing narratives around race and sports.

Remembering tennis greats like Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, we celebrate their unforgettable spirit and the legacy they left behind. These pioneers battled racial prejudice, both subtle and overt, to carve out their places in the archives of tennis history. Their stories are the epitome of courage, perseverance, and resilience.

Ashe and Gibson blazed new trails in sports and in social justice. Coco Gauff is who they blazed them for.

It’s fitting that Gauff won the U.S. Open as the nation celebrates 50 years since it became the first of the Grand Slam tournaments to offer equal prize money to men and women. Billy Jean King, who spearheaded the boycott that led to equal pay, said “she’s the reason we fought so hard 50 years ago.”

Like many among the new generation of outspoken Black athletes, Gauff has used her platform to advocate for social justice – a trail that her own grandmother, Yvonne Lee, helped to blaze when she became the first Black student to attend Delray Beach’s all-white Seacrest High School in 1961.

Though she was only 16 when George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in 2020, Gauff delivered a powerful speech at Black Lives Matter rally outside Delray Beach City Hall, speaking just after her grandmother, saying “I think it’s sad that I’m here protesting the same thing that she did 50-plus years ago.”

Like her grandmother, Gauff stormed onto the scene with a maturity and expertise well beyond her years. From her run at Wimbledon in 2019 defeating seven-time Grand Slam title winner Venus Williams, to her consistent performance on the global stage, Coco’s story is a testament to the transformative power of dedication and grit. But Coco is more than just a talented tennis player. She embodies hope, the promise of change, and the boundless potential of the next generation. She’s not alone though. Players like Frances Tiafoe, Sloane Stephens, and Taylor Townsend also play crucial roles in reshaping that narrative.

Together, they signify the increasing diversity in a sport once perceived as elitist and exclusive.

This rise of young Black athletes in tennis is not just about achieving individual excellence. It’s about challenging the status quo, breaking barriers, and carving out spaces where historically there were none. Their successes send a powerful message to Black children everywhere that they too can challenge the status quo, and win. It is also important for institutions and stakeholders in tennis to recognize this shift and support it. From funding grassroots programs in marginalized communities to promoting diversity at all levels, there’s a lot that can and should be done.

As we celebrate Coco Gauff and other Black athletes in this sport, let’s remember the significance of their journey. They are not just changing the face of tennis; they are changing the fabric of American sports.

Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.

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