November 28, 2021

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“Social Justice Cause Messaging” to be allowed at US Open

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The first players are arriving in New York City and entering the US Open bubble. And as they prepare for the long marathon on the hard courts, they’ve learned that if they want to send a message about social justice they’ll be allowed – just this once.

It won’t be just Black Lives Matters. It can be Gay Pride, gender equality – whatever a player feels strongly about.

The waiver that gives leave to patch up for justice is in line with the USTA’s stated commitment to promoting racial quality. The title of the tournament’s campaign this year is “Be Open”.

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The players can wear emblems, logos, sympbols or written identifications  “expressing support of a social justice cause”. They can be of any size – on their shirts, jackets or hats .

They can be worn during the pre-match interviews and the walk onto the court. But if they don’t fit into the parameters for what is allowed during the actual match, they must remove it.

During the matches, they will be allowed to wear one emblem, logo or symbol on their clothing up to a size of three square inches. They can also wear those logos in their shoes, without size limitations.

The symbols must be approved in advance by the ATP or WTA supervisors during the “Cincinnati” event. During the US Open, the Grand Slam referee is the arbiter.

(If those officials consider the planned gesture of support to be hate speech – or anti- or pro- Trump or Biden, for example – or otherwise “not in the best interest of tennis”, they won’t be allowed to wear them).

So there will be no political campaigning. No “Make America Great Again” hats.

USTA statement on social justice

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Support for Black Lives Matter was prominent during the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in France back in June.

“The USTA is committed to promoting racial equality. We believe that if tennis is to thrive the sport must become more inclusive and must support people of colour. Moreover, the USTA’s diversity and inclusion policy is one that espouses that anyone, from anywhere, should be able to play, compete, and participate in the sport, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or any other trait.

“We further believe that in these unprecedented times, athletes be given the ability to express their beliefs while on court. And although Black Lives Matter is the spark for this premise, the USTA feels strongly that permitting free speech for only one particular social justice cause is not free speech at all. The USTA is therefore equally committed to permitting athletes at the 2020 US Open to express their position and support on social justice issues.”

Here are the relevant excerpts from the 2020 Grand Slam rulebook. With this exception, they regulate how the players can adorn their gear at the major tournaments.

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Will the tournaments follow suit?

There is no mention in the memo about what the players can do with their tennis bags.

There also is no mention of whether the US Open will participate in this social justice initiative by adding Black Lives Matter logos on their tournament court signage.

The Top Seed Open in Kentucky last week did just that.

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Venus WIlliams in front of a huge “Black Lives Matter” banner on the tournament signage in Kentucky.

The “Cincinnati” portion of the event published photos of their centre court, which will be the US Open’s intimate Grandstand court.

But those photos – an unfinished, in-progress look – do not feature anything yet besides the tournament sponsors’ logos.

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The “Cincinnati” event will use the Grandstand court as its main court – the tournament posted pics of the signage going up on Monday. (Western & Southern Open)

It will be fascinating to see who takes part, who stays out of it, and who goes all out.