James Blake played tennis for 14 years and was recognized as one of the best American tennis players of his day. But fives years ago he retired. Blake says that he needed a break from tennis. He didn’t like how much time he was spending away from his family. Now, in his retirement, he has been able to switch gears and make his life about things other than tennis.
When Blake retired he had one young daughter and another on the way. Now his daughters are four and six years old. As his daughters have grown, he has found his way back to tennis. Blake has become a TV announcer and just this year became the tournament director of the Miami Open.
Directing a tournament and announcing on TV might be enough for some ex-tennis stars but Blake is more ambitious than most. Last year he published a book called Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, And How Sports Can Bring Us Together.
Releasing this book is part of Blake’s growing role as an activist. While getting involved in social is issues is not something Blake anticipated doing early in his career, after some unfortunate circumstances he felt compelled to lend his hand in the fight for equality.
Blake’s Beginning In Activism
Three years ago, Blake was in New York for the US Open. He was on the sidewalk outside of his hotel when everything changed. Out of nowhere, Blake was assaulted by an undercover cop. After being taken to the ground he was put into handcuffs. Blake stayed calm and his ability to do so likely saved his life.
At first, Blake thought that getting tackled must be some kind of joke. But when he was held on the ground he realized that it was real. Blake did not fight back and luckily he was not seriously injured.
Blake later found out that the only repercussion for the officer was losing five vacation days. The officer even had the gall to sue Blake after he explained what happened in his book. Thankfully, the case didn’t go anywhere and was thrown out of court.
Blake initially filed his own lawsuit against the city of New York but soon withdrew it. He decided a more productive way of handling the situation was to set up a legal fellowship in the city to help New Yorkers who don’t have the resources to win legal battles on their own.
The assault on Blake was not his first encounter with racial profiling. As a young tennis player, he was often pulled over while driving. Being a young black man, driving a nice car, he was a target for police. But Blake was lucky that he was never hurt or wrongfully imprisoned by law enforcement. Others are not so fortunate. So setting up the fellowship to help those who don’t have the means to advocate for themselves is something that Blake is immensely proud of.
Speaking out on behalf of people of color is a big part of Blake’s life now. But retiring from tennis has also shown him how much he loves the game. Being away from the court gave him a new appreciation of the tennis. Blake intends to keep tennis as a central part of his life. He wants to help the game grow in popularity just as he wants our country to grow more equal.