- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Instead, he adapts so well that he even got to liking the Army this summer when he had to serve six weeks at ROTC camp. Typically, he volunteered for KP and other odious tasks so that he could not be accused of slacking. "He's worried about the Cassius Clay thing," Pancho Gonzalez says. Ashe finished second in his platoon in overall achievement and will be inducted into active service for two years in February as a second lieutenant in the adjutant general's corps. The AG is sort of a typewriter infantry—which suggests that the Army probably intends to let him play tennis when possible and otherwise show off for them as a symbol, an image and the American Dream in modern Army green. "I don't know how the Army, the two years, will affect Arthur's tennis career," Gonzalez says, "but I know this. He is at peace in his mind. He won't duck a thing, and he won't let anybody down."
Ashe himself is fully aware of the special responsibilities that weigh upon him. "You never forget that you are a Negro, and you certainly can't in my case," he says. "The other week when I played on Long Island I went the whole time and did not see—did not see—a single other Negro. That's except for the waiters and the locker-room attendants. And you can bet I always get good treatment in the locker rooms.
"It's not unusual for me to go a month without a date. Of course, wherever I go there are usually Negroes who look me up. But that can be difficult. I try to be nice, but I'm fickle, I'm choosy no matter what your race happens to be. And however well-meaning these people are I just can't embrace them because we happen to be the only two lumps of coal in the snowbank.
"For me, it's a phony world." He stopped to consider that. "No, that's not fair. That's wrong. It isn't a phony world. It's an abnormal world I live in. I don't belong anywhere. It's like I'm floating down the middle. I'm never quite sure where I am. I guess Charlie is my best friend, but I never felt that we were really as close as we should be. It's simply that he's white and I'm Negro. I joined a Negro fraternity at UCLA. You know, I felt I had to at least make the effort. But I was never really part of it—our interests were so different. It's just this: no matter how you happen to look at it, the two things—tennis and a Negro social life—are mutually exclusive."
In many ways being a Negro serves to accentuate the nomadic, lonely life of the tennis circuit. "I'd like to get married now. I really would," he sheepishly admits. A year ago the idea repelled Ashe, but most of his tennis contemporaries are married and it seems to be getting to him. "It'd be nice to have someone. I mean, the last thing I am is a loner. I'm a real extrovert around people I know. I have to have noise. I carry a radio around all the time."
This spring, "strictly on one of his crazy impulses," according to Pasarell, Ashe got himself engaged. The memory makes him more sheepish. It made all the columns before Ashe and his girl decided against it.
"But I do get lonely," he says, "and it does bother me that I am in this predicament. But I don't dwell on it, because I know it will resolve itself. If I valued peace of mind or security more than tennis I could get off the tightrope now, and I will someday. Then, things being the way they are, I'll fall back onto the Negro side."
Before that (and after the Army) it is probable—though not yet settled in his mind—that he will turn pro. To be a prime asset, however, he must first win one of the big ones—Wimbledon or Forest Hills—or be the decisive factor in a Davis Cup challenge. Ashe's game is now at a level where all of this is quite possible. Last year, after he upset Roy Emerson in the quarter-finals at Forest Hills, he patiently tried to caution the press. "I told them one win, one match is insignificant. What is important is to establish a trend of winning. Well," Ashe says, "I've done that now." He has won eight tournaments since then, one in the Caribbean, three in the U.S. and four in Australia—despite thoughts of Bella and despite the fact that he went water skiing the whole day before the finals of another tournament ("boating," he told Captain MacCall). After Forest Hills, Ashe may well pass Dennis Ralston and become the No. 1 U.S. player. He should be ranked no lower than fifth in the world.
The pros are already drooling. Not only does he have the big, exciting game, but as the first Negro pro—apparently Ashe is forever doomed to being identified as the first Negro something-or-other—he has special drawing quality. He is quite cognizant of the potential of this reverse racism. "Arthur has," Charity says, "a very keen, uh, let us say, marketing sense."
Ashe is already on a retainer to promote Coca-Cola and has been hired by Philip Morris Incorporated to work in its Clark Gum and American Safety Razor divisions. "It's against the code for me to push cigarettes here," he reports, "but see me if we ever go past the three-mile limit together, and I'll tell you all about them." He makes $9,000 a year in "expenses" as a member of the U.S. cup team. The pros will have to go high for him.