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Colin Kaepernick’s Visit to Arthur Ashe Stadium Was Way More Meaningful Than Fans Realized

Colin Kaepernick has become a force for racial equality and a much-maligned activist. An earlier example of an athlete-turned-activist is tennis icon, Arthur Ashe. He’s as well-known for his activism as he is for tennis. In fact, to honor his legacy, the main stadium at the annual U.S. Open is named Arthur Ashe Stadium. When Kaepernick visited the venue, their paths crossed in a special way.

Arthur Ashe’s legacy at the U.S. Open

Ashe has a long legacy at the U.S. Open, which began in 1968 — the first year the tournament was held in the open era. Ashe was a 25-year-old up-and-comer at the time. Still an amateur at the time, he had to face professionals. This was the first year that pros were allowed to play in the tournament.

The fifth-seeded Ashe made his way through Roy Emerson in the fourth round. Then he took out Cliff Drysdale in the quarterfinals. Ashe beat semifinal opponent Clark Graebner before getting a five-set victory over Tom Okker in the final to claim the first U.S. Open championship. The title also made him the first Black man to win a major title in the sport.

Colin Kaepernick visits Arthur Ashe Stadium

Colin Kaepernick at Arthur Ashe Stadium
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his girlfriend Nessa attend the 2018 U.S. Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium | Jean Catuffe/GC Images

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Kaepernick and former 49ers teammate Reid were among the first players in the NFL to kneel during the national anthem in the 2016 season. The act then spread through the league and other sports organizations. With Kaepernick considered the leader of that movement, he has a lot of fans.

In 2018, Kaepernick, his girlfriend Nessa, and Reid visited Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch Serena and Venus Williams face off in the U.S. Open, as Reuters reports. As is often the case when celebrities attend an event, fans saw the former teammates on the big screen several times.

Both men received an enthusiastic welcome from tennis fans. They each raised a fist while up on the screen, which is a universal signal of support and solidarity with like-minded people.

Ashe’s history of activism

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Ashe used his fame on the tennis courts to enact change in America and South Africa, as History.com reports. The tennis star grew up in the segregated South in a poor family.

Later, the Asheville native used his clout and political activity to help kids in similar situations. Ashe worked to expand employment and educational opportunities for disadvantaged children in the South. He also was an activist for AIDS awareness after he was diagnosed with the disease. Ultimately, it led to his death.

Outside of America, Ashe tried to get eliminate political barriers in South Africa and put an end to apartheid. To that end, in 1983 he teamed up with singer Harry Belafonte, who was also a political activist, to form Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid. That organization pushed for sanctions and embargoes against the South African government.

Ashe’s protests temporarily cost him his freedom, leading to his arrest outside the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 1985. Ashe also got involved in other causes, including gender equality and fair treatment for Haitian refugees, during his life.