players throughout the ’80 and early ’90s. “Tennis sponsors especially are just not sure about us, which may make them somewhat reluctant to open their pockets.”
As for the Williams girls–Venus in particular–getting financial backing hasn’t been tough to come by. As it shouldn’t. Her own tennis genesis mirrors Garrison’s. In 1995, Team Williams, led by father Richard, secured a lucrative deal, reported to be $12 million over five years, with Reebok International, Inc. for then 14 – year – old Venus. The Reebok deal made getting additional backing virtually unnecessary. Keven Davis, the family’s attorney and agent, says where ethnicity may have worked against a player like Venus years ago, that’s not necessarily the case today.
“There’s still work to be done,” admits Davis, who has been with the Williams since 1990. “Venus came along at the right time. Companies see her as somebody with the total package. There have been other good African Americans before Zina and there are other African Americans that are good today. But being good is only part of it,” says Davis who notes that Venus’ main court rival, Martina Hingis, doesn’t enjoy the same endorsement success. “You have to do more than just win. You have to have qualities that people find more attractive. I don’t want to say attitude but you need to bring something else to the table: education is important, family, religion, moral values, all of those things.”
Finding Mixed Reviews
Craig Bowen, the associate manager for Titleist and Foot-Joy Worldwide, says when it comes to golf, the bottom line is simple: Minority players–who don’t carry star power like Tiger Woods–need to be given a chance–period. “There are five to eight professional black golfers–that if given the right situation of sponsorship–could possibly make a dent on the PGA Tour or a major U.S. TOUR” he says emphatically. “People ask the question, ‘Why aren’t there more black golfers on the tour?’ Well, here’s why: The money is just not there and the folks who have the money aren’t very receptive.” Tiger remains the standard for the golf industry–black or white–with a reported $80 million in endorsements from Nike, American Express, Titleist, All Star Cafe and Rolex. However, whether in the world of golf or tennis, stories like the Blakes are all too common.
Tom Blake Sr.’s sons–recent Harvard grad Tom Jr. and freshman James–are two of the best college tennis players in the country. The eldest, Tom Jr., who graduated last June, co-captained the Crimson Tide and was ranked No. 19 in singles competition in the nation with a 27-11 record. Freshman James is so good, he’s expected to turn pro this year. Still, Tom Sr., who lives in Connecticut, says he has had to do everything out of his pocket. “I have been supporting my sons for many years without the help of the USTA or anybody else,” says Blake. “And I know there have been a number of Caucasian youngsters that haven’t been doing as much as my sons and they’ve been able to do