Re: International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Exclusion of Richard Williams and Oracene Price
To : The Board of Governors and Staff of International Tennis Hall of Fame
Contributor Class of 2021 Hall of Fame
We are compelled to write another letter to the Board of Governors of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, following our earlier letter in July 2017 because we have just witnessed history repeating itself and we can’t remain silent. To recap, in February 2017, we submitted our nomination of Richard Williams and Oracene Price to the ITHOF, and we got confirmation from the Enshrinement Manager that your organization had added our nominees to the 2018 list of nominations. A few months after our nomination, the ITHOF changed the induction policy for the Contributor Category from an annual rotation to a 4-yearly cycle with the ballot capped at two individuals. As a consequence, our nomination of Williams and Price was nullified.
Despite our disappointment, we were patient, and when the nomination for the 2021 Contributor Class opened, we were one of the first people to submit our nominations. A few days after our submission in December 2019, ITHOF amended the Policies & Procedures of Enshrinement, specifically for the Contributor Category by making it also eligible for groups of individuals who acted together to make tennis history. In response to this rule change, we decided to consolidate our individual nominations of Williams and Price and submit a joint nomination of Williams and Price. We argued that as a group, both of them acted together to make tennis history. ITHOF accepted our nomination, and we were optimistic that this time around, Williams and Price would make the ballot and get a chance to be the second and third black inductees into the Contributor Class of the ITHOF in its 66-year history.
For the second time in three years, our hopes were dashed when ITHOF announced the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 ballot list. The Contributor category ballot list comprised of Dennis Van der Meer and the Original 9 Group made up of Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid. For the sake of clarity, we are not downplaying the achievement of the Original Nine as they created tennis history and made the game of tennis lucrative for women. They broke down the gender barriers and created equality in the sports which is enjoyed by female tennis players today. However, we firmly believe there should have been space for Williams and Price also to be included in the ballot. We don’t need to belabour you with what Williams and Price accomplished on and off the tennis court as we have already detailed it in our nomination form.
Despite the setback, we will not give up. Be rest assured that four years from now, we will be nominating Richard Williams and Oracene Price for the Contributor Class of 2025. However, we believe that as an organization, you need to look inward and to thine own self be true. You should also review the policy of inducting Wheelchair players and Contributors every four years.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a Hall of Fame can be defined as a “Group of individuals in a particular category (such as a sport) who have been selected as particularly illustrious.” It is also an institution honouring the achievements of individuals in a particular activity or field. Induction into a Hall of Fame ideally occurs once. However, with your recent announcement, we are witnessing a situation whereby people are being inducted into the Hall of Fame twice as set below:
+ Rosemary Casal was first inducted into the ITHOF in 1986 and is likely to be inducted again in 2021.
+ Nancy Richey was first inducted into the ITHOF in 2003 and is likely to be inducted again in 2021.
+ Billie Jean King was first inducted into the ITHOF in 1987 and is likely to be inducted again in 2021.
Perhaps, it is time for the ITHOF to ask itself some hard questions such as why black people are grossly underrepresented. Of the 15 people included in the Class of 2021 ballot (Players and Contributors), all are white. Of the 46 individuals in the ITHOF Contributor Class Hall of Fame, there is only one black person who made the cut. If Williams and Price are not deserving of inclusion on a ballot paper talkless of induction, then it reveals a lot about the Hall of Fame.
Whether Richard Williams and Oracene Price get inducted to the ITHOF or not, their place in history is assured. They are appreciated by people in the black community, and we are grateful that they gave us Serena Williams and Venus Williams and helped usher in a generation of black female tennis superstars.
We end this letter by asking a few questions for which we do not or anticipate an answer:
Was the amendment of the eligibility criteria to include a group of individuals a couple of weeks after the nomination opened done to produce an expected outcome?
Why are people being inducted into the Hall of Fame twice?
Why has Williams and Price contribution to the game of tennis gone unrecognized?
What is the racial composition of the Enshrinement Eligibility Committee?
What is the racial composition of the Enshrinement Nominating Committee?
What is the racial composition of the Official Voting Group?
What is the racial composition of the Governors-At-Large?
What is the racial composition of the ITHOF Official Representatives?
What is the racial composition of the ITHOF Life Trustees?
What is the racial composition of ITHOF Staff?
Is the current ITHOF racial composition making it incapable of appreciating the contribution of black tennis pioneers to the game?
Ahmed Sule (Alatenumo )