Accepting Others

Bill Tilden was born in to a family of privilege but led anything but a privileged life. Two older siblings died before he was born. His mother was an invalid and died when he was 18. His father died when he was 22. As a result, Bill suffered from depression. Tennis became his recovery outlet.

While Bill wasn’t considered good enough to play for his high school or college tennis teams, he still had a passion for the game. He started practicing on his own. Three years later he won his first national title.

Ten years after he was rejected by his college team, he became the first American to win at Wimbledon. He continued to compete as an amateur for 20 years and won over 70% of the tournaments he entered. He won 14 major singles titles and 10 Grand Slam events. He is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all times.

Tilden turned professional in order to sustain the lifestyle he was accustomed to as his family financial resources dwindled. He supplemented his tennis winnings with training of young tennis players. Since Tilden never had much of a relationship with his father, he especially enjoyed befriending and mentoring young players as well as young ball boys who worked the tournaments.

At the age of 53, Tilden was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It became known that Tilden was gay. Those who knew Tilden well attested that there was no truth that he made unwanted sexual advances to anyone, no matter their age. But the lack of acceptance of gays made Tilden an easy target.

Tilden suffered for his sexuality but became an icon of possibility for other gay/lesbian athletes. While many gay/lesbian athletes never came out during their competitive years, Bill Tilden’s success gave them the encouragement to compete in the sports they loved.

It has taken time, but the acceptance of gay/lesbian athletes has grown. Tilden’s success as one of the greatest athletes of all time in his sport has dispelled the myths of gays/lesbians in sports. While team sports have been less accepting, the time will come when some of the greatest team athletes of all time will be more open about their sexuality.

Just imagine a time when a person’s sexuality will no longer limit their possibilities in anything they choose to do? Just imagine when public acceptance no longer depends on a person’s biological background? Just imagine when our achievements in life are more important than our differences?

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One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.
– Barbara Jordan (Civil Rights leader)

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