This country has a love affair with sports. From baseball to wrestling, sporting events rake in millions every year.
Parents dream of raising super athletes who will tearfully turn to the camera and thank them after winning championships. For the past few weeks, Baltimore has paid more attention to whether it will receive an NFL expansion team than to the fighting in Somalia.
Still, there is a stereotype that African-Americans only particpate in certain sports. Too many racial barbs and slurs are based on the fact that there is an abundance of blacks playing football and basketball. Meanwhile little attention is given to the fact that blacks are active in sports such as tennis, lacrosse, wrestling, golf and swimming.
Tennis, for example, was invented in the 19th century to be played by European royalty. Years later, a young black woman named Althea Gibson fell in love with the sport in her inner-city neighborhood and went on to win the 1957 U.S. National Tennis Championship and Wimbledon.
Likewise the name Arthur Ashe has become synonymous with tennis and black athletes.
But Mr. Ashe wasn't content to be just a rarity in the sports arena -- a black man excelling at the white man's game. He used his celebrity status to further awareness of racism, apartheid and AIDS.
Arthur Ashe's activism is an extension of African-Americans' refusal to be shut out of sports that were labeled ''white.'' In 1948, 24 people were arrested at the courts of Druid Hill Park for having a ''play-in'' in which blacks and whites volleyed together on the ''whites only'' court.
The media contributes to the stereotypical attitude towards blacks in sports. Whereas white athletes are often praised for their ''intelligent skill and strategy,'' black athletes are descibed as having ''natural ability.'' And black players in sports that do not have an abundance of African-American stars are heralded as ''sensations,'' thus downplaying the role of blacks in the sports world.
Heather Brownley, a 15-year-old African-American student at the Bryn Mawr school, is the co-captain of her tennis team. She is one of only two blacks on the team and plays tennis seven days a week. Tennis, to her, is the opportunity to prove that blacks can excel at any sport.
''People don't know, they're ignorant,'' says Heather. ''They don't often see African-Americans play so they assume that they don't.''
And sadly, many blacks still shun sports such as tennis because very little is known historically of African-Americans' contribution to all sports. There is a belief that tennis is only for the bourgeois.
Writer Mike Preston of The Sun reported this year on the increase in African-Americans playing lacrosse in a May 19 article entitled ''Lacrosse's Changing Face.''
''Well, you know, I thought it was a game played only by white people,'' said Micheal Duke, a 15-year-old lacrosse midfielder and eighth-grader at Pimlico Middle School.
There are also socio-economic reasons. Black parents do not always have the time to be active ''sports parents.'' Not only do sports such as basketball and football offer the lure of big bucks, it's also cheaper to let a child loose on a community court or field than it is to hire a private swimming or tennis coach.
One tennis coach finds this disheartening. ''For every one black student I have, there are 20 white students,'' she says. ''You can't tell me that if you can afford to buy your kids $100 tennis shoes and Nintendo games, you can't make an investment in your child's future.''
Lisa Respers is an editorial assistant in The Sun's Carroll County bureau.