Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Tennis Memories from a Time When Racism and Anti-Semitism Still Prevailed

I learned tennis at a public park in Brooklyn- Lincoln Terrace- where the teaching pro was a mailman named Phil Rubell. Almost all the kids who took lessons with Phil were Jewish or West Indian, and a number of us became good enough to play Division One college tennis at a time when most clubs where tennis was played at a high level kept out Blacks and Jews One of those restricted clubs was the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, which was the site of the US National Championships, which later evolved into the US Open. I actually got to play there under an interesting set of circumstances which I will describe below The year was 1961, and the best woman player at Lincoln Terrace, a physical education teacher named Sheila Marashick, won a place in the US National Championships that summer because she was one of 100 highest rated players in the world. Since Sheila didn't have the entourage of coaches, agents, and personal trainers that today's players do, she asked me and my doubles partner, Fred Lawrence, who had just won the NYC Public Schools Doubles Championships, to accompany her as her hitting partners. Along with this perk came clubhouse passes, which meant we could use the locker rooms and watch matches on the clubhouse court from close range Needless to say, Fred and I were really excited about this opportunity. The day started off really well. After warming up Sheila on a side court for a half an hour, we got to watch a flamboyant teenager with glasses named Billie Jean Moffit play one of the seeded players on the clubhouse court. Billie Jean lost, but she was an incredibly charismatic figure because of how well she moved and how much she talked to herself during points, tossing aside the stiff, "ladylike" persona that most of the women players assumed. We figured this would not be the last we saw of her and we were right Emboldened by Billie Jean's persona and intrigued by the grass courts at Forest Hills, Fred and I decided to push our luck and start hitting on one of the side courts, pretending we were members. That pretense didn't last too long since one of us was Black, and Forest Hills didn't have any Black members. A club official soon came by and kicked us off. I thought of this the other day when the brilliant American player, Frances Tiafoe, who is Black, went head to head with a brilliant Argentinian player, Diego Schwartzmann, who is Jewish, at the US Open and beat him in three closely contested sets. I don't know if Fred Lawrence watched the match, but I'll bet if he did, he was smiling as much as I was. There is a long history of Racism and Anti-Semitism in this country. We have worked too long and hard to let people push us backwards in the name of Christian Nationalism and White Supremacy.