"I’m proud that the players — starting with the NBA and then backed up by other sports — that they’re trying to make a stand to try to deal with the racial injustice," the retired tennis pro said

By Lindsay Kimble
September 02, 2020 02:52 PM
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John McEnroe
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

John McEnroe is impressed by the athletes using their platforms to take a stand.

The 61-year-old retired tennis player said in an interview with Footwear News that he feels proud that players in tennis and other pro leagues opted to boycott games and matches last week after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

"I’m proud that the players — starting with the NBA and then backed up by other sports — that they’re trying to make a stand to try to deal with the racial injustice," the seven-time men's singles Grand Slam winner said. "As an outsider looking in now, in a way, it makes me feel proud that I was once an athlete. And hopefully this time there will be some real change."

Young tennis star Naomi Osaka was among the players to take a stand, pulling out of her semifinals match at the 2020 Western & Southern Open last week. Several hours later, the tournament announced it was pausing play for a day.

"Hello, as many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semifinals match tomorrow," Osaka, 22, wrote on Twitter. "However, before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis."

"I don't expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction," she explained. "Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I'm exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I'm extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?"

For her first match at the U.S. Open this week, Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT who was killed in March in her home by Louisville Metro Police.

Also in the interview, McEnroe discussed the open being held despite the coronavirus pandemic. Many of this year's tennis Grand Slams were canceled or have been postponed due to the health and safety concerns. The 2020 Wimbledon tennis championships were canceled, as well as the 2020 Indian Wells and the 2020 Miami Open.

McEnroe told Footwear News that he has “mixed feelings” about the tournament being held. He added, "but I understand that players have to make a living. Hopefully, it’ll work out and be good for the sport — that’s the main thing. I’m glad I’m not one of the ones playing out there.”

The former athlete's brother, ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe, also recently told PEOPLE that the U.S. Open will be a different atmosphere this year because of coronavirus.

But, he said, "If you'd given me a choice between a U.S. Open with no fans and no US Open, I'll take the former."