Arthur Ashe: remembering one of the sport’s greatest champions

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Arthur Ashe

American tennis champion Arthur Robert Ashe Jnr (1943 – 1993), the first black player to win a major men’s tennis tournament, on court at Wimbledon. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Arthur Ashe’s success in the sport of tennis thrust him into the spotlight. Leading the way for African Americans in tennis, his being the only black male in a sport dominated by white players made him a pioneer by default. He embraced his responsibility and status in the sport, especially as his career progressed.

His impact on the sport was felt throughout the country. A champion of inner city tennis programs, Ashe worked hard to bring the sport that he found at a young age to so many others. He was a voice in the Civil Rights Movement and spoke out against apartheid in South Africa.

For as much success as he had in tennis and beyond, Ashe’s later life was not without complications. Suffering from health problems near the end of his life, it was discovered that Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received during a heart operation. On February 6, 1993, Arthur Ashe passed away from AIDS-related pneumonia.

At the young age of 49, Ashe died at New York Hospital before being laid to rest in his hometown of Richmond, VA.

His funeral was held at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center and Virginia’s first African American governor, Douglas Wilder, allowed his body to lie in state at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, VA. Over 6,000 people mourned the great Arthur Ashe. Fellow tennis star and friend, Yannick Noah, also attended the funeral. He was discovered  by Ashe at a tennis clinic in West Africa at the age of 11.

The sport of tennis remains forever touched by the legacy of Arthur Ashe. He has paved the way for athletes in general and set an example of how to have a positive impact on the world at large. Those fortunate enough to grace the court at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows understand the importance of his life and play to further his unparalleled legacy.

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