He’s one of his country’s brightest prospects on the tennis tour, but US star Frances Tiafoe says a lack of diversity in the sport makes him feels like an “outsider.”
The current world No. 81 reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2019 but says his success has always felt “different.”
As one of very few Black men in the top 100, the 22-year-old Tiafoe also believes he’s had to work twice as hard to reach the elite level.
“I definitely feel that not everybody wants to see that success in me,” Tiafoe told CNN Sport’s Christina Macfarlane, stating he still felt the love from the majority of fans.
“I feel like I’m taking something from someone that may have liked to do that.
“I definitely felt that because ultimately, they don’t want us in power. I truly think that’s a thing.”
The American has urged other professional players to get involved to address the issue of diversity and promised to continue fighting for equality while he still has the platform to do so.
He credits the impact the Williams sisters have had on the game but knows more needs to be done to address the balance.
Aware that not everybody has the resources to break into the tennis elite – a recent study found tennis players spend between $175,000 to $2 million per year on expenses – he says having role models to look up to can encourage other Black children that tennis is a sport they can participate in.
“Are we going to help everyone? Of course not, but I’m definitely going to help as many people as I can. That’s my duty,” he said.
Such a lack of diverse representation was all too clear when, along with his girlfriend and tennis player Ayan Broomfield, he created a protest video to raise awareness of racial injustices after the death of George Floyd sparked protests across the world.
“I think if more people who have weight, who have a big platform, speak out then I think change can happen and you can be optimistic,” he said.
“Obviously, you see everything going on in America right now, I think it’s a good idea to come together right now and try to speak out.”
The general manager of player development for the US Tennis Association Martin Blackman told the Undefeated website that he’d like to see more Black men try and enter the sport professionally through the college tennis route.
According to Blackman, the issue of grassroots coaching has a role to play in getting more Black children to think about taking up tennis.
“If we had more African American coaches in the community where the kids live, that is going to make an enormous difference,” Blackman told Undefeated.
Protests against police brutality, which had begun peacefully, have intensified across the US this week with demonstrators sometimes clashing with law enforcement.
US President Donald Trump has vowed to use the military if widespread violence isn’t quelled, and on Monday peaceful protesters outside the White House gates were dispersed with tear gas on Monday.
Tiafoe says he understands people’s anger but has called for demonstrators to avoid violence and promote a message of justice.
“I love the protests, I think it’s great but, at the same time, amazing cities that have been there for many, many years, to see them like that hurts me,” said Tiafoe as he called for looting to stop.
“I personally don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t condone it but at the same time, I get the frustrations. It’s a hand-in-hand thing.”
‘We’re all equal’
With no signs of the situation in the US easing anytime soon, Tiafoe called for calm in order to find a better solution to the heartbreaking issues at the center of the protests.
Currently staying in Florida, he has not taken part in any demonstrations but said things would have been different if he was back in his home city of Washington DC.
“We’re all equal, no one is better than the person to the left or right of me. We all need to come together,” he said.
“Some people take their power a little too seriously, and that’s creating issues. We need to all understand that everyone is just as important as everyone else.”