Flushing, Queens - On Tuesday night, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) celebrated their third annual ICON Awards at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center. While it rained throughout the day, neither the heavy downpour nor the cancellation of the US Open's evening matches were enough to prevent the wet but enthusiastic Tennis crowd from missing the USTA's majestic event.
Hosted by the evening's Masters of Ceremony Touré of Fuse's Hiphop Shop and On The Record, and Betty Nyugen of CBS News, the 2011 ICON Awards honored the Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center, Chief Executive Officer & President of the Phoenix Suns Rick Welts, and David Dinkins; the 106th Mayor of New York City, for their contribution in breaking down barriers in order to create opportunities for others to pursue.
With the USTA's philosophy of Diversity & Inclusion, it was fantastic to witness the diversity of the honorees as well as the audience in attendance. In my case, I'm a Soccer writer who lives, breathes and writes about American Soccer.
To be honest, I don't follow Tennis on a regular basis, but I am familiar with the history of tennis in America and it's social, political and economic contributions to American Society.
A few months ago, I was contacted by Renee Tirado of the USTA. While I'm not at liberty to reveal any information from our conversations, I will admit that it was flattering to be contacted by the USTA considering that I'm a Soccer writer covers American Soccer. So when I was invited to attend this year's ICON Awards as a guest, I immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Having lived in both New York and Arizona, I was familiar with both David Dinkins and Rick Welts. What I didn't expect was their clever sense of humor and the charisma both men possessed as they captivated us during their acceptance speech. Witnessing them in person as they addressed their contributions and the courage they put forth in educating us about the importance of accepting and embracing diversity was simply amazing and breathtaking.
Learning that the Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center is the oldest African-American owned tennis facility in the United States and learning about it's contribution to the residents of the Greater Boston area was impressive.
I was impressed in hearing how the Tennis & Enrichment Center has impacted many to give back to their community.
Personally, the highlight of my evening was seeing Billie Jean King in person as she presented the inaugural Billie Jean King Legacy Award to David Dinkins. It doesn't matter what sport you cover or follow on a regular basis, you know who Billie Jean King is and about her famous Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs in 1973.
In my opinion, and I'm sure that many would agree, Billie Jean King is one of the greatest athletes ever to exist worldwide. Considering the era that she played, she was basically the Voice of the Voiceless, who, through her actions on and off the court, created opportunities for women worldwide.
While I've known Billie Jean King as a mythological figure, it was a unique experience to see an individual of her stature as a human being.
It's one thing to know of her contributions, but to see and hear a living legend such as herself in person honoring a fellow colleague was a moment I'll never forget.
After an evening of observing the impact of the USTA, as well as the atmosphere of feeling embraced and included in the Tennis community, I have no reservation about writing about their contributions in the communities they serve. While I know that its important to follow your favorite players and scores, I believe it's import to be aware of how Tennis, much like Soccer, is making an impact through awareness worldwide.
The USTA’s mission is "to promote and develop the growth of Tennis." The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is the national governing body for the sport of tennis and the recognized leader in promoting and developing the sport’s growth on every level in the United States, from local communities to the crown jewel of the professional game, the US Open.
Established in 1881, the USTA is a progressive and diverse not-for-profit organization, whose volunteers, professional staff and financial resources support the singular mission. The USTA is the largest tennis organization in the world, with 17 geographical sections, more than 700,000 individual members and 7,000 organizational members, thousands of volunteers and a professional staff dedicated to growing the game.
To learn more: www.usta.com
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for LatinoSports.com. He also writes for 5 Points Press & USSoccerPlayers.com ; your source for American Soccer news brought to you by members of the U.S. National Team. Easily accessible, you may reach Cesar at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer.