Still a hero

Milton Kent

February 12, 1993|By Milton Kent

THE seminar topic was the effect of sports journalism on the African-American identity, and I had looked forward to meeting a man I considered a hero, even if I didn't agree with everything he had to say.

I recall thinking, as he sat down in the chair before the audience of about 20 journalists from around the country, that he seemed slight and gaunt, as if the heart ailment that we knew about had sapped him of a great deal of strength.

But as Arthur Ashe began to speak, I felt grace and power emanate from him, and I knew that whatever his physical ailment, it hadn't remotely touched his soul or his conviction.

Slowly but surely, he rose to the challenge of convincing a group of reporters that we were guilty of corrupting the minds of young black athletes, that we had convinced them their achievements were limited to what they could do on the playing field or in the gym (just as Ashe had risen to beat Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon singles final in 1975), not what they could do with their minds.

I nodded in acknowledgment until he restated his support for Proposition 48, the National Collegiate Athletic Association measure that bars freshmen from participating in college athletics if they do not score 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

I feel the rule is unfair to minority students whose educational opportunities often are limited. Ashe said he thought the 700 threshold was too low, and I raised my hand to state my opposition. When the seminar ended a few minutes later, we talked for awhile, shook hands, and he handed me his telephone and fax numbers, inviting me to stay in touch.

After he left the seminar, Ashe called and asked that some medication he had left in the classroom be forwarded to his home in New York. I thought nothing of it, figuring it was heart medication, but a few months later, when I watched him announce that he had contracted AIDS, I wondered what I would have done, as a journalist, if I had found his medication and discovered that it was used to treat the disease.

The answer was simple then and still is: I would have sent the package back and kept my mouth closed with no questions asked.

I only met Ashe that one time, but from all I know of his dignity and compassion, I'm sure that once he was forced by the media to go public, he felt obligated to tell the world that life could continue, even with AIDS, just as he had spoken out for civil rights and justice around the world.

Indeed, that remarkable moral code led him to tape a message to other AIDS sufferers days before his death Saturday in New York.

And I wonder if, after being revealed as an AIDS patient, Arthur Ashe, who had known of his condition for years but died less than a year after it became public, was robbed by the charging media pack of precious time with his wife and daughter.

I don't know and never will. All I know is that one of my heroes is gone and the world is a colder, less gentle place in his absence.

Milton Kent is a sports reporter for The Sun and The Evening Sun.

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