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2011 U.S. OPEN DAY 9: ICON Awards Honor Diversity And Service At U.S. Open

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

CBS News personality (L)Betty Nguyen and cultural critic (R)Toure' were the hosts of the ICON Awards  Former NYC Mayor (C)David Dinkins was honored.

Billie Jean King
Rain couldn’t wash away the crowds as the ICON Awards honored trailblazers in the world of tennis and beyond.

The annual reception – hosted by CBS anchor Betty Nguyen and MSNBC host Toure, celebrated its third anniversary inside the Chase Center, on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The gala has become one of the signature events at the Open, leveraging the international stage of one of America’s greatest sports and entertainment spectaculars to recognize and celebrate individual and institutional contributions in diversity and inclusion.

This year honorees included the Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center (formerly Sportsmen’s Tennis Club) of Boston, Mass., along with Rick Welts, President and CEO f the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. To cap off the night, a teary-eyed Billie Jean King introduced Legacy Award winner David N. Dinkins, 106th Mayor of New York City and longtime member of the USTA Board of Directors.

As the national governing body for tennis, the USTA is committed to the principles of fairness and equality. From supporting tennis programs in local communities to staging the crown jewel of the professional game—the US Open—the organization adheres to a simple statement that sums up a vital objective: "Grow tennis and make it look like America."

Toni Wiley, Executive Director of Sportsmen’s, stepped to the podium and thanked the members of the Boston community – including host Toure, who was a member of the Dorchester-area club as a child – for supporting the tennis haven for 50 years. It is the oldest African American-owned tennis facility in the United States.

“Its amazing that for 50 years, this club has been fighting to create a place in a Boston community for young people to learn a sport,” said Wiley. “For many families, that didn’t seem possible when the facility was first built.”

Welts was next introduced with a sharp video package featuring endorsements from the likes of NBA Commissioner David Stern, Hall-of-Fame Boston Celtics center and coach Bill Russell and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo. Welts made headlines in May 2011 by publicly revealing his homosexuality in an interview with the New York Times.

USTA Chairman of the Board and (L)President Jon Vegosen and USTA Executive Director and (R)Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith.

As one of the few openly gay executives in professional sports, Welts speaks out against the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men’s team sports and serves as a mentor to gay individuals who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office.

“In men’s team sports, there’s a level of discomfort along all lines – we don’t like talking about sexual orientation, its uncomfortable,” said Welts. “I hoped that my story would resonate with young people who may be found themselves at some point in their life in the same situation as I was and wondered if they could ever follow their passion – that they’d be prevented from following a dream because of who they were.”

King then was introduced, to a standing ovation, and remarked that without Dinkins – who signed into legislation a 99-year lease to keep the US Open in Flushing Meadows – as the person most chiefly responsible enhancing the sport of tennis in New York City.

“Events like today’s ICON Awards tell us that we have made great strides in the right direction,” said Dinkins. “The leaps ahead have most often been sparked by heroic individuals and tennis has certainly had its share. Among them were my personal heroes Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe… had the misguided prevailed in barring Althea, Arthur and countless others from competition, we might not have known them. That would have been tragic. Were it not for their struggles and triumphs, we might not have ever experienced the genius of so many great champions in tennis.

“I’m personally gratified that the USTA embraces the goal of enabling everyone to enjoy the benefits of tennis, regardless of economic status, age, social class, disability, gender or sexual orientation,” added Dinkins.

“(Total inclusion) is a goal, but not yet a reality – we have some distance yet to go.”


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