An Open Letter to the International Tennis Hall of Fame: A Call to Induct Richard Williams and Oracene Price and to Amend Eligibility Rule for Disabled Athletes and Contributors

Subject: An Open Letter to the International Tennis Hall of Fame: A Call to Induct Richard Williams and Oracene Price and to Amend Eligibility Rule for Disabled Athletes and Contributors
From: Concerned Tennis Fans
Date: 15 Nov 2021

We are a group of tennis fans from different races and region. We are writing this letter to express our concern regarding the exclusion of Richard Williams and Oracene Price, parents of tennis ace Venus and Serena Williams, from the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The Tennis Hall of Fame honours players and contributors who have excelled and made a transcendent impact in tennis. It offers three induction categories: Player, Contributor, and Wheelchair. To be eligible for this induction category, they must be a true pioneer, visionary leader, or individual / group who has made a transcendent impact on the sport. In addition, consideration is given to integrity, sportsmanship, and character. We believe that Richard Williams and Oracene Price are long overdue for inclusion into the Contributor Category Hall of Fame as they tick all these boxes.

No one has impacted the game of tennis in the last two decades as much as Richard and Oracene. They are true pioneers, visionaries and have made a transcendent impact on the growth and development of the sport. They overcame Jim Crow segregation to coach Venus and Serena Williams to multiple Grand Slam glory, hence rewriting tennis history. In the process, they changed how the game of women's tennis is played.

As a direct result of their coaching, which led to their daughter's exploits, it has opened up opportunities for black people worldwide to get involved in tennis. They created a legacy and a template for tennis success, as evidenced by Naomi Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam champion and Coco Gauff, the 2019 Wimbledon breakout star whose parents applied the roadmap created by Richard and Oracene.
Moreover, there is a prevalence of other black female tennis players on tour, such as Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Taylor Townsend, Whitney Osigwe etc., many of whom were inspired by Richard and Oracene's daughter's success. Their work also brought in a new audience of black people who troop to the various Grand Slam events to watch tennis. A number of us certainly would not have been so interested in tennis had it not been for Williams, Price and their daughters.

They were way ahead of the curve. When close-stance was the recognized style of playing tennis, Mr Williams challenged perceived wisdom and taught his daughters the open-stance style of play despite facing ridicule from the tennis world. Even when the pros were using the closed stance, he and his wife believed once perfected, it would bring power and speed to women's tennis. Nearly twenty-five years later, coaches and players are adapting to the open stance. They taught their daughters how to serve hard and hit the balls from anywhere on the court. This approach has transformed the game of women's tennis.

Despite their immense contribution to the game of tennis, Williams and Price are conspicuously absent from the International Tennis Hall of Fame. We are aware that their names have been submitted for the nomination over the years, but they are excluded when it comes to making the ballot. We are also mindful of instances whereby shortly after Richard and Oracene have been nominated, the ITHOF has changed the rules, which has sometimes jeopardized or delayed their chances of getting inducted. In 2017, a few months after they were nominated for the Class of 2018 induction, the ITHOF amended the induction policy by transitioning from an annual induction to a 4-year rotation for the Contributor and Wheelchair Tennis Categories. This rule change automatically nullified the nomination and postponed the next possible year of induction for the Contributor Category by three years. Three years later, Williams and Price were nominated again for induction. A few days after the submission, ITHOF amended the Policies & Procedures of Enshrinement, specifically for the Contributor Category, making it eligible for groups of individuals who acted together to make tennis history. In response to the rule change, the individual nomination of Williams and Price was consolidated into a joint nomination. When the ITHOF announced the Hall of Fame's Class of 2021 ballot list in September 2020, once again, Williams and Price were omitted from the list. As a result of their exclusion, the next possible date for Williams and Price induction is 2025.

The lack of black representation in the Hall of Fame is glaring. Of the 56 inductees under the Contributor's category, only one black person is on the list - Dr Robert Johnson, the founder of the American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Development Program. We are aware of the historical exclusion of blacks from society and the failure to recognize black excellence. We are also aware of instances where black pioneers are ignored in their prime only to be revered when frail or dead. We hope Williams and Price don't become victims of this trend. While the tennis aristocracy has always had an uncomfortable relationship with Richard Williams, this is not a necessary or sufficient justification to deny Williams and Price from being inducted.

We agree with Martin Luther King, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied." With the Contributor induction now on a four-yearly rotation, if one is to extrapolate the time frame between the first white Contributor -Julian Myrick (inducted in 1963) and the first and only black contributor hall of Famer - Robert Johnson (inducted in 2009) and forecast a possible induction year for Richard Williams and Oracene Price, one will arrive at 2205AD as the expected date. To put this date into perspective, Richard and Oracene will be 262 years and 253 years old, respectively.

The transition from an annual induction to a four-year rotation also impacts retired wheelchair tennis players, who now have to wait four times longer than non-wheelchair tennis players to get the recognition they deserve.

Despite the respite that the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded tennis in the past year, tournament attendance, viewership and participation in the sport has been declining for several years. The USTA has been aggressive in trying to galvanize a marketing plan to recruit Black and brown communities to participate in the game with different initiatives that include the ATA and HBCUs, in hopes of generating community-based opportunities to introduce the sport and get folks to play tennis. With the global embrace of Black Lives Matter and the social justice movement it sparked and the “Me Too” movement, there’s been a heightened recognition of Black inequality when it comes to our history and the gatekeepers narrative that excludes much of it our accomplishments and achievements. What’s undeniable is the excellence and legacy of Black contribution to the sport of tennis, and none shine brighter in the 21st century than Venus & Serena Williams, and no “group” has more credit for their historic successes than their parent-coaches, Richard Williams & Oracene Price. However, the ITHOF’s history of discrimination in the lack of Black nominations and inductions must be held accountable in the face of the two times rule changes made apparently to delay or, at worst, deny their induction. With the upcoming release of the movie, “King Richard”, a biographical film featuring Will Smith about a black family who, against all odds, transformed tennis as we know it, there’s interest from the press in getting some answers about Richard and Oracene’s. There’s an opportunity to right this egregious wrong, mitigate this PR nightmare, and we hope you will address it.

Given the above, we request the following:

1. We would like to see Richard Williams and Oracene Price inducted into the Class of 2022 International Tennis Hall of Fame. This shouldn't be a difficult task; after all, they ought to have been inducted years ago.
2. We ask that the 4-yearly Contributor's induction cycle is reinstated to an annual cycle. ITHOF can quickly implement this since the eligibility criteria have been changed twice in the last three years.
3. We are deeply concerned that wheelchair players are being discriminated against with the 4-yearly induction cycle and would like the Wheelchair Tennis Category induction reinstated to an annual cycle.
4. We recommend that ITHOF conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances leading to Richard Williams and Oracene Price's continuous exclusion from the Hall of Fame.
5. We understand that the ITHOF unveiled a "Breaking the Barriers" digital exhibit, which documents 120 years in African American tennis history. The programme is a good initiative; however, it lacks permanency. We call on the ITHOF to conduct an independent inquiry into the lack of black representation in the Contributor's Category Hall of Fame.

We are more than willing to partner with you in you need help and look forward to your reply.

Signed by:

Concerned Tennis Fans
November 2021