NEW YORK — James Blake, whose singles career ended with a first-round loss at the U.S. Open on Wednesday, was never a player to mince words or back down from what he believed to be right and wrong.
His match was scheduled on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was honored to take the court on such a historic day, and even after the tough five-set loss that sent him into retirement, he still took time reflect on how far the civil rights movement has come in 50 years, and how much work still needs to be done, specifically in the area of gay rights.
“To have something that was a demonstration 50 years ago that still resonates today and still is sort of a beacon for what Martin Luther King did, how much he progressed the civil rights movement, I’m proud that I’m in a situation now where I don’t have to face the same things he had to face, I don’t have to face the same things my dad had to face,” Blake said.
“But I also don’t think we’re at the finish line, and I’m proud to be a part of hopefully helping get toward the finish line. I think it’s a good reason to celebrate the 50th anniversary, to let people know that the civil rights movement isn’t over. There’s also new topics that need to be dealt with.
“I think we need to embrace the fact that there are people that want to live their life the way they want to live their life and should be given that right. I’m happy that [The Defense of Marriage Act] was overturned. I’m happy that things like that are getting better. But we’re definitely not at the finish line.”
In May, Blake announced that he had joined up with Athlete Ally, an organization aimed at putting an end to homophobia in sports. Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish are also ambassadors for the organization.
“Sports is a great equalizer,” Blake said. “Some of the proudest times I’ve been on the court is Davis Cup and the Olympics. They’re supposed to embrace sportsmanship. It’s a level playing field. You go out, you’re good enough to win. It has nothing to do with what you do the rest of your time.”
Blake went on to condemn the anti-gay laws in Russia, which have already raised questions of a potential boycott of the Sochi Olympics.
“It’s sad,” Blake said. “Like I said, we’re still in this fight. I don’t know if a boycott would change that. I don’t know all the politics that go into a boycott, but I know that policy is unacceptable. I wouldn’t want to be over there.
“I think everyone at this point, when you look at numbers, someone in your circle, whether it’s a family member or a friend, is gay, transgender or bisexual. You should appreciate that those people are valued members of society, people that are doing something good in the world. They should feel comfortable to live their lives. … I think any sort of policy that discriminates against them, that excludes them, is completely unfair in today’s day and age. That’s why I say we’re 50 years out and there are still things going on that are discriminatory.”