Tennis Hall of Fame Discriminatory Policy Against Richard Williams, Oracene Price and Players Living With Disabilities.
To The Board of Governors International Tennis Hall of Fame
We are writing to express our displeasure at the recently announced changes to the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHOF) Induction policy, which we believe is an insincere attempt to block Richard Williams and Oracene Price’s induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame. It also discriminates against people living with disabilities.
Our agitation for the inclusion of Richard and Oracene began when we reviewed the list of previous inductees under the Contributors Category. We noted that the inductees included photographers, tennis umpires, journalists and administrators. We also noted that most of the inductees had white faces. Of the 44 or so inductees under the Contributor’s category, there was only one black person — Dr Robert Johnson, the founder of the American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Development Program. We felt it was time to add color to the whitewashed Hall of Fame, hence our nomination of the greatest tennis coaches of all time.
So on 4 February 2017, we wrote to the International Tennis Hall of Fame Board of Governors requesting them to nominate Richard Williams and Oracene Price into the Tennis Hall of Fame under the Contributors Category. We also went to your website and completed and submitted the nomination form. In making the case for Richard and Oracene, we argued “No one has made an impact on the game of tennis in the last two decades as much as Richard and Oracene.” We cited their success as coaches to tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams as sufficient justification for their inclusion. On 6 February 2017, we received an email from Christine Verhar, the Enshrinement Manager informing us that, “I’ve added your nomination to the 2018 list of nominations” (See Appendix A). Since we followed the due process specified on your website, we were confident that Richard and Oracene would finally get the recognition they deserve and looked forward to seeing them inducted in January 2018. A few days later, we started a petition on Change.org urging the ITHOF to induct Richard and Oracene. This petition was well received by the general public and was even referenced by Bleacher Report and the US Tennis Association.
So you can imagine our surprise and disappointment when we learnt of the amendment to the induction policy, which takes effect for the Class of 2018. The new policy included several changes such as the automatic ballot inclusion for players who have attained extraordinary levels of achievement and a fan voting process. So far, so good. But it also included the transitioning from an annual induction to induction every four years for the Contributor and Wheelchair Tennis Categories. According to the policy, “The Contributor Category (Wheelchair Tennis Category) will move to a 4-year rotation and the ballot will be capped at two individuals. The next possible year of induction for the Contributor Category will be 2021 (2019 for Wheelchair Category), and it will be every four years following that.”
This new criterion is nothing more than an attempt to deny Richard Williams and Oracene Price their place in tennis history. The coincidence of the change in policy is very obvious. The policy came into effect nearly four months after we nominated Richard and Oracene and shortly after the public agitation via the petition to get them nominated. The eligibility criteria automatically knock them off the list for the Class of 2018 despite informing us earlier that they had been included in the list. By emphatically stating that the next date of induction for the Contributor Category will be 2021, you have postponed Richard and Oracene’s long overdue induction by four years at best and forever at worst. You have also discriminated against retired wheelchair tennis players who will have to wait much longer than abled tennis players to get the recognition they deserve.
With all due respect, the ITHOF’s action constitutes a gross injustice to Richard Oracene and wheelchair players. The ITHOF has gone back on its word and changed a whole process on account of two individuals and this has now impacted people living with disabilities. When people in our community say that tennis is institutionally racist, they are often accused of playing the victim or playing the race card. But in reality, the game is institutionally racist. We see how Serena and Venus are demonized and objectified because of the color of their skin; we see how Taylor Townsend is body slammed and body shamed by the tennis authorities; we see how Gael Monfils and Dustin Brown are dismissed as entertainers and never given the recognition as tennis players; we see how tennis fans are kicked out of Grand Slam tournaments simply for wearing tee shirts bearing the inscriptions -”Love Serena, Hate Racism” and “ Serena Rocks, Racist Sucks” and we see the powers that be in tennis, welcome white blonde drug cheats with open arms as they ban black players for “lackadaisical play.” ITHOF’s recent action is worthy of induction into the “Tennis Racial Hall of Shame.” The ITHOF has breached Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which stipulates, “States Parties shall prohibit all discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantee to persons with disabilities equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds.”
The tennis aristocracy has always had an uncomfortable relationship with Richard Williams. From his comments on racism to his black power salute at Indian Wells to his warning to the Lawn Tennis Association that tennis will not progress in Britain as long as the organization focused on players from the expensive elite private tennis clubs rather than those from the ghettos to his insistence on teaching his daughters the open-stance method, to his withdrawal of his daughters from the junior tennis circuit — he has been within the crosshair of the tennis establishment. Is this payback time?
There is a saying within our community that black people have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to get half of what our white counterparts get. Having gone through this nomination process with the ITHOF, we now realize that black folks not only have to be twice as good and work twice as hard, but they also have to wait four times as long to enjoy the privileges which white folks take for granted. Instead of acting in a cowardly manner by shifting the goalpost, perhaps the ITHOF should have issued a press release stating that it is “racially uncomfortable” with Richard and Oracene’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
Richard Williams hasn’t been in the best of health of late and he is looking frail. Including him in the Hall of Fame for the Class of 2018 would have been an atonement for his hostile treatment by the tennis establishment; instead, you have delayed the process so that the earliest age in which he could be inducted is the ripe age of 79 (and 69 for Oracene) and in the event of missing that cut, 83 years (and 73 for Oracene). We hope that Richard and Oracene do not experience the fate of other black icons who are never recognized when they are alive only to be venerated when they are dead. In the West, monuments are built for the very black icons that were racially abused long ago.
A century ago, the US Lawn Tennis Association came up with a policy barring African American tennis players; in response, the American Tennis Association was set up to nurture the talents of black tennis players. A century after the US Lawn Tennis Association’s ban, the ITHOF has introduced a policy that now bars two great black tennis coaches from induction. However, as the “White” ITHOF continues to deny Richard Williams a place in the Hall of Fame, the “Black” American Tennis Association has made him the first inductee to the ATA’s new Hall of Fame. You may deny Richard and Oracene a place in your lily white Hall of Fame, but you can never deny them their place in history. We believe that ITHOF’s claim of awarding the highest honor in tennis is without merit; its action reveals it to be the most deceptive honor in tennis.
01 June 2017
United States Tennis Association
Fédération Française de Tennis
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
Women’s Tennis Association
International Tennis Federation
American Tennis Association
The Wheelchair Tennis Players Association
International Paralympic Committee
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities