James Blake may be retired as a tennis star, but he continues to carve out a career as the Miami Open tournament director, a multifaceted personality, and an intersectional thought leader in the pro game.
He knows a few things about being profiled as an African American—about standing in public while black. In 2015, as the US Open was nigh in New York, he was aggressively tackled by a police officer, handcuffed, and held for 15 minutes before a release on grounds of mistaken identity. The cop, James Frascatore, sued for defamation; Blake never received an apology from him, despite the officer's four previous infractions for similar incidents, all involving black men.
Blake made Jimmy Fallon's late-night show a forum for racial justice and equity this past week. He engaged with the TV host at length on this matter—that Black Lives Matter—and offering at one point his admiration of the movement, glad "to see that the protests happened so quickly, so genuinely, and they got results."
"At that point it's 2015, there's still already plenty of signs in the media, plenty of cases of police violence, black men and women being killed or harmed by the police," Blake said. "So my first thought is back to the conversation I had with my dad, back to all those incidents, and my first statement was, 'I'm complying 100 percent. Whatever you say, I'm complying. 100 percent. Because I know I don't want to be a stat.'"
Blake has suffered such incidents not just off court while waiting for a US Open courtesy car. He's seen a fair share (as in, more than zero) of racially charged incidents on court in the past as well.
The 40-year-old serves as a longtime supporter for equality, across various backgrounds or dimensions of difference. His Miami Open staff started an "Out at the Open" program last year that he looked forward to taking up a notch in 2020, before the COVID-19 health crisis hit—hard. (Florida remains one of the pandemic's hotspots in the United States.)
With the platform he has to speak about such topics with grace and a clarion call for change, Blake has shared his unique perspective widely between The Tonight Show and the dual-tour Tennis United program in recent days.