If the playing field of life isn't level, neither is the tennis court. A young black man named Arthur Ashe discovered this early growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia in the 1950s. So Ashe learned to play tennis on the streets. He went on to become the first black tennis player to win the U.S. Open in 1968. That didn't stop South Africa from denying Ashe a visa to play in the South African Open. In what would prove to be a lifetime of outspoken political engagement, Ashe called for South Africa to be expelled from the professional tennis circuit. He went on to win 72 titles, including the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975, when he defeated Jimmy Connors in the final.
Arthur Ashe didn't wait for the twilight of his career before extending his hand to other boys in need of the kind of help he never got. He was just 25 when he set up his first social program. On a trip through Cameroon a year later, he spotted the young Yannick Noah, and pushed the French Tennis Federation to take the gifted youngster under its wing. Throughout his too-short life, Ashe fought as hard against apartheid and for Haitian refugees as he did against his adversaries on the other side of the net. As he himself said, "I believe I was destined to do more than hit tennis balls." Ashe contracted HIV from a tainted blood transfusion and spent his final years raising money for Aids research. He died from the disease in 1993 at the age of 49. His widow Jeanne continues his work today through the Arthur Ashe Foundation, which provides educational and sporting opportunities for children all over the world. Le Coq Sportif is part of this work with its support of the Foundation's Learning Center in New York.