It was a night unlike any before, with recently retired professional players taking the stage for Open Playbook: Being Queer and Out in Pro Tennis in Soho to discuss the LGBT experience on the ATP and WTA tours.
There they were, coming out for a cause: Brian Vahaly and Casey Dellacqua, James Blake, by video, event mastermind Nick McCarvel, and tennis drag queens.
"This is a celebration of all of us, to be here, to be ourselves, to celebrate this great sport," McCarvel said. "It's just another iteration of how beautiful this community is."
The showcase of diverse perspectives saw its host, famous guests and onlookers all sipping on Martini Navratilovas like a queer tennis-centric Watch What Happens Live–albeit one in which the stars of the show discussed their children as much as their careers.
Vahaly and Dellacqua downplayed their significance in the sports world, having not necessarily wanted to be poster children for the LGBT community during their active playing days, but the subtle examples they provide even now cannot be overstated. Vahaly now serves on the USTA's board of directors, and Dellacqua works for Tennis Australia.
“In 2013, when I announced that we’d had our first child, my tennis improved out of sight” - @caseydellacqua, speaking at last night’s #LGBTennis event in NYC????????— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) August 24, 2018
Congrats @NickMcCarvel & @HousingWorksBks ????
Catching up via @NCR_Tennis video on Facebook: https://t.co/YllNGTrz7P pic.twitter.com/QdKA96W00J
In women's tennis, the likes of Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo and more have set the tone over recent decades as gay women or lesbians on tour.
"I certainly feel like things have changed for the better," Dellacqua said at the live event, "and I probably do feel it's different for the men and women."
To date, no professional in men's tennis has emerged as openly gay at the highest level, in the Top 100, or even the Top 200 for that matter. As Vahaly shared at the event, his initial coming out publicly on Jon Wertheim's Sports Illustrated podcast led to a few days of hateful emails inbound to him that threatened his home and family. Since then, to his relief, things have eased up in general and specifically with his peers from tour life.
Noting the ATP University advising on media training, finances and more that pros receive, Blake shared via video that "it's just as important to learn about tolerance, inclusion" as "the ATP tour can be tough ... but it can be like a fraternity, and inclusive to all."
"The idea was to have a conversation that hadn't been had before, and I think we did that," McCarvel later shared with Ben Rothenberg on the No Challenges Remaining podcast, which re-broadcast the entirety of the event.
About last night... nearly 200 (!!!) in attendance to hear Brian Vahaly and @caseydellacqua share their ???? stories. I can’t even begin to share how excited I am by the energy inside @HousingWorksBks. This is only the beginning #LGBTennis pic.twitter.com/9BoCYNvFoJ— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) August 24, 2018
The likes of Kevin Anderson trumpeted the importance of the event ahead of time, and he and fellow US Open second-week participant John Isner heralded the event's value after the fact as well.
Well done, Nick!— John Isner (@JohnIsner) August 24, 2018
So here's to that forthcoming first openly gay ATP player. Here's to all the coming-out opportunities that these talks will inspire. Here's to the lives that such chats may save. And here's to keeping the conversation going.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
Wake up every morning with Tennis Channel Live at the US Open starting at 8 a.m. ET. For three hours leading up to the start of play, Tennis Channel’s team will break down upcoming matches, review tournament storylines, breaking news and player developments.
Tennis Channel’s encore, all-night match coverage will begin every evening at 11 p.m. ET, with the exception of earlier starts on Saturday and Sunday of championship weekend.
Watch the best matches from the first three Grand Slams on Tennis Channel PLUS. From Federer’s historic win at the Australian Open to Halep’s breakthrough at Roland Garros. It all starts Monday, August 27th.
Follow the Race to ATP Finals this fall on Tennis Channel PLUS. Live coverage from the biggest stops including Beijing, Tokyo, Shanghai & Paris.