Arthur Ashe was a great tennis player, but what was more significant was his work to heal racial divides in both sports and society. Even after he got the AIDS diagnosis that later took his life, he kept pursuing causes he felt were important to not just the Black community, but the country as a whole.
Ashe inspired Black athletes, like Tiger Woods, to break barriers in predominantly white sports. Despite his success, Ashe’s earnings during his legendary career pale in comparison to what he likely should’ve earned. Let’s look at his life, legacy, and net worth (and why it was so low).
Arthur Ashe’s impact on the tennis world
Ashe was a great tennis player to be sure, but his influence on the sport of men’s tennis extends well beyond his play between the lines on the court. History.com called Ashe “the Jackie Robinson of men’s tennis” and it’s hard to argue with that claim. He was the first Black man to win a Grand Slam. Ashe battled against rampant racism during his amateur days to rise to the professional ranks, where he thrived.
A Virginia native, Ashe wasn’t allowed to play against white people in Richmond, his hometown, until 1966. Even when Ashe went pro, he suffered from plenty of discrimination. Ashe won 50 tournaments during his career, including two additional Grand Slam titles. He retired in 1980.
Why Ashe chose to fight for civil rights
Ashe was a vocal civil rights activist. According to the man himself, he felt it his duty to do so:
“There were times, in fact, when I felt a burning sense of shame that I was not with other blacks — and whites — standing up to the fire hoses and the police dogs, the truncheons, bullets, and bombs that cut down such martyrs as Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, Viola Liuzzo, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers and the four little girls in that bombed church in Birmingham, Alabama. As my fame increased, so did my anguish.”
Ashe pushed for better educational and employment opportunities for Black people. He was also an outspoken critic of racism in South Africa. Alongside actor and activist Harry Belafonte, he formed a group called Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid. As Sports Illustrated reports, Ashe donated money and time to causes like the United Negro College Fund, Safe Passage Foundation, ABC Tennis Program, and African American Athletic Association.
When Ashe contracted AIDS due to a blood transfusion, he became a staunch advocate for AIDS awareness up until his death. Sadly, Ashe is gone, but his legacy remains. He’s served as a constant example for the athlete-activists of today like Colin Kaepernick. He’s proof positive that a professional athlete can be successful on the field or court while also battling important issues off of it.
Why was Arthur Ashe’s net worth so tragically low?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Ashe had a net worth of $4 million. He made $1.5 million from his ATP Tour wins. A few things could have influenced Ashe’s net worth, which was not as high as it could have been:
- In the ’70s, Ashe called fellow tennis great Jimmy Connors “unpatriotic” for not playing on the U.S. Team in the Davis Cup, according to The Independent. While the suit was later dropped, this could have had harmful impacts on Ashe’s ability to pick up endorsements at the time as Connors was a very popular figure in men’s tennis circles.
- Rampant discrimination still prevalent at the time likely kept many opportunities from Ashe. While he was popular and successful during his time, there’s no telling how successful he could have been if not for implicit racial biases that pervaded society.
Ashe may not have earned as much money as he could during his career, but he left a legacy far greater. He left behind a beloved wife and daughter, his status as a trailblazer in men’s tennis, and decades of social justice and civic activism work. He serves as an example not just for Black athletes today, but for all people.