Seldom has my phone rung as much as it did during the Shoal Creek Country Club affair. "Well" the questioning usually began, "What about tennis?"
Does the sport of tennis have its own Shoal Creek lurking in its future? I don't believe so.
For one, there is a significant representation of minorities in America's tennis establishment. Henry Talbert is the United States Tennis Association's director of recreational tennis at its Princeton office. Benny Sims and Carol Watson are two of just four USTA national coaches; Hampton University, a predominantly black college, is a power in NCAA Division II competition. And the USTA has a working relationship with the historically black American Tennis Association and the Black Tennis and Sports Foundation.
In addition, the current crop of young stars is heavily represented by first-generation Americans: Pete Sampras is Greek-American, Andre Agassi is Armenian-American, Michael Chang is Chinese-American, Jennifer Capriati is Italian-American and Mary Jo Fernandez is Hispanic-American. Last year for the first time, both of the USTA's number one nationally ranked 14-and under players were black: J.J. Jackson of North Carolina and Chanda Rubin of Louisiana.
But in spite of this progress there are problems worrisome enough for the USTA to hire a consulting firm: Alexander and Associates of Washington, D.C. Problem number one is that the 17 sections that make up the USTA have some member clubs -- mostly country clubs -- that do discriminate against certain ethnic groups. Since the USTA, like the United States Golf Association, is a tax exempt association, it is fully aware of this vulnerability.
Problem two is the prevailing attitude among too many local staffers that "we don't have a problem" and they appear appropriately shocked after each "incident." However, a visual check in the 1990 USTA yearbook of the 175 faces and names in the 15 sectional offices in the continental United States found only three blacks, four Asians and two Hispanics -- not nearly representative of the population as a whole. (Two of the USTA's sections -- the Caribbean and Hawaii Pacific -- were not counted.) Yet Ebony magazine, for example, the most widely read periodical among black Americans, recently showed a survey in which tennis was the leading participant sport among its readers.
Problem three is the unequal access to facilities, instructions and competitions that enable players to win college scholarships, improve their rankings or to play as professionals. Though the USTA's primary raison d'etre is to promote the game among the public at all levels, its actual focus is decidedly private club-oriented. Of the 53 sanctioned national championships authorized by the USTA in 156 different age and surface categories, 23 were held at private country clubs. Many of those clubs have shown a strong bias toward whites, with a few Hispanics and Asian-Americans, but almost no blacks.
The USTA does have strong league presence for serious amateurs and frequently teams from public and private clubs compete against one another. Atlanta has over 50,000 players in its ALTA League program. The USTA Schools Program has touched nearly three million public school children and the USTA National Junior Tennis League offers quality instruction for beginners at over 320 chapters nationwide.
Tennis's challenge in the 1990s is to continue its present course of inclusion, raise the availability and lower the cost of basic instruction, transfer more of its elite events from private to public venues, build alliances wuth local community programs and enhance the sport's profile at black colleges.