Arthur Ashe defined “distinguished.”
There is no better example of an individual who exhibited grace under pressure, on and off the tennis court.
And Ashe was more than a tennis champion. He was an educator, an international civil rights activist, a leader and a tremendous example of what a professional athlete should be.
Our daily lives are inundated with sports. And there are too many instances of athletes about whom it must be said, “Yes, he’s a great player, but . . .”
There never were any “Yes, buts . . .” with Ashe.
Ashe was a native of Richmond.
His statue is on Monument Avenue, but that is not enough to honor him or keep him in the forefront of area residents’ memories.
An arena on the Boulevard bears his name, but that is not enough, either.
The interactive Arthur Ashe “Inspirational Tour Exhibit” is seeking a permanent home. Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, “would love” to see it reside in Richmond.
There is no better location. The only question that should be asked is, “How soon can we seal the deal?”
Ashe had a complicated relationship with Richmond. Because he was black and segregation was in place, his tennis career here was thwarted. There were public courts where he was not allowed to play.
He had to go to Lynchburg, where a black doctor, Walter Johnson, provided the resources to help Ashe develop his tennis and social skills.
Ashe graduated from UCLA and began to pursue an international tennis career.
He is the only black player to win the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon. He won the U.S. and Australian opens. He represented the United States on 11 Davis Cup teams.
When heart problems ended his playing career, Ashe served as the Davis Cup captain and led the team to consecutive titles in 1981-82.
In 1983, Ashe contracted the AIDS virus, apparently from a blood transfusion following open heart surgery. Testing transfused blood for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, did not begin until 1985.
As he grew older, his feelings toward Richmond seemed to temper. He came here more often. He conducted clinics for young people. He was a consistent competitor in the professional indoor tournament held at the Coliseum. He won the tournament three times.
Ashe was only 49 when he died. He is buried here, in Woodlawn Cemetery on the city’s northside, next to his mother.
How many people know that? How many young people know who Ashe is, what he accomplished, what he stood for and what he represents?
In February 2003, Times-Dispatch tennis writer John Packett performed an informal survey of young players at a local tennis academy. Most knew who Ashe was. Few knew he was from Richmond.
Ashe deserves to be remembered, and his memory deserves to be honored.
There is no place more fitting for Ashe’s exhibit than Richmond. Housing it here is the right thing to do.
Perhaps it could be part of a sports complex on the Boulevard. Or perhaps it could be part of a black history exhibit in Shockoe Bottom.
One thing needs to be clear. We don’t need to debate the location for the better part of a decade, as we have the location of a new baseball stadium.
Local leaders quickly cut a deal to build a facility for the Washington Redskins training camp.
Local leaders are bringing the 2015 UCI World Road Cycling Championships to town.
Neither possesses the potential for long-term impact on young people of the Ashe exhibit.
If we don’t make Richmond the exhibit’s permanent home, we will have let a great opportunity slip away.