Leslie Allen competed in the 1970s and '80s when the playing field looked very different on the WTA tour than it does today. She explained some of the challenges she faced during her era when she joined the TENNIS.com Podcast to talk what it was like for her as a Black athlete.
"Every experience I had in tennis was not horrible," she says. "But that was just one of the additional things you carry along, that negativity, that's the exhausting part of being Black."
During her career, Allen would become the first Black woman to win a significant tour event since Althea Gibson in 1958, and reach as high as No. 17 in the world. Given today's climate, Allen had a lot to say about the likes of Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff speaking out about the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I think it's fabulous. It makes me proud," Allen says, also penning a piece in The Undefeated. "I referenced that fact that for her entire life there have been Black tennis champions, so [Gauff] doesn't have to worry about, 'Oh, I'm going to mess it up for the next guy.'"
It wasn't like that for Allen.
"Versus in my generation, it was all new," she says. "A Black woman on the tour, I better be on my best behavior because I don't want to mess it up for the next generation."
Gauff has had many Black players to look up to on tour including Serena and Venus Williams, the latter of which she has beaten twice. When she took out Venus the first time at Wimbledon, the 16-year-old announced herself on the global stage. In June, she took to a different stage in her home town.
While the work is far from over, Allen likes what she's seeing.
"For her to have that freedom and to take advantage of that platform it's fabulous because basically they're saying, 'We're tired of this,'" Allen says. "Coco said, 'My grandmother was fighting this battle, why are we still going through it?' I think it's powerful and people are unapologetically Black."
Osaka hasn't held back on Twitter for weeks .
I hate when random people say athletes shouldn’t get involved with politics and just entertain. Firstly, this is a human rights issue. Secondly, what gives you more right to speak than me? By that logic if you work at IKEA you are only allowed to talk about the “GRÖNLID” ????????♀️?— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) June 4, 2020
Allen just hopes the efforts continue.
"When you're a tennis player you're independent, so it's good that [they're] doing that," she says. "I think they're less concerned about their brand because it's topical, so let's see what happens in six months or nine months."