Once upon a time, Althea Gibson was hailed as the best female tennis player in the world. She played the game with grace, confidence, and determination.
She was aggressive, in her own words “mean”, and determined to be better, faster, stronger than her opponents. She trusted in her abilities and believed she had what it took to become a champion. She didn’t have to prove it to herself.. She knew who she was and, she knew what she wanted. And what she wanted; was to prove the world she was game enough to be the best.
As the great Billi jean King once said.. “Althea would walk into a room, and you could feel her presence, she was dominant”. And when she stepped on to the court, be it in Newy York, London or Paris, she played the game on her own terms, as a uniquely gifted and talented athlete whose goal was to be the greatest in her sport.
The fact of the matter was.. Althea Gibson played to win.
Now, during the civil rights movement it’s indisputable that what she accomplished paved the way for other black athletes in numerous sports, not just tennis, and inspired little black boys and girls to achieve their own dreams.
But let’s be clear, She did not consider herself a crusader for black rights, a pioneer or role model. She refused to play the role of the outspoken racial advocate that many in the black community wanted her to play. And there-in lies the dilemma.
Althea loved tennis; she loved winning, and she loved being a champion. She worked hard to achieve what no black athlete had ever accomplished but she didn’t do it to uplift the black community. She didn’t want to represent other African Americans. She only wanted to play tennis – without all the racial baggage. She was not Jackie Robinson who used notoriety as a star athlete to support the civil rights movement; nor did she want to be.
The reality was, she cared more about winning matches than being a standard bearer for civil rights. To some back in the 50’s, and even today, her honest self-awareness and assessment of her personal motives and goals may seem selfish. Maybe so, but I believe to cultivate the mindset of a champion, you need the ability to put yourself first, especially when your goal is to become the very best you can be and achieve what others say is impossible.
Isn’t infuriating that when the world is faced with a strong, confident aggressive, competitive woman, whether in sports, politics, or business she is considered arrogant, egotistical, unfeminine, a bitch… or even worse.
Contrast this with the super star male athletes of today who are unapologetically hyper focused on winning. The Tom Brady’s, Lebron James’s, or Novak Djokovic’s of the world, we call them the GOAT- “Greatest of All Time”.
Althea Gibson was “The Greatest of Her Time”.
What I love most about Althea was her fierce individuality and courage to say to the world, this is who I am and I refuse to be something that I’m not, to say something that I don’t believe or feel something that I don’t feel, just to please other people. She knew what she wanted, she wanted to be somebody, she wanted to be a champion, and she was.
Althea Gibson is the BrightLighter who challenges me to stay true to myself as I strive to achieve my best in everything I do and become the champion of my own life.