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Ruckmann-by Kubota!Evonne Goolagong won the French Open the first time she played the tournament, the only player in the Open era ever to achieve this.

Guess what? I once played alongside Evonne in an exhibition doubles match. Truly. If I were on the Mainland, I would find the framed picture I’ve kept (and will keep forever) and include it in this post. Since I moved to Hawaii more than three years ago, though, I have never been back to the Continental United States. Given the current occupants of the White House, I’m in no rush whatsoever to cross the Pacific.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Evonne, not only because of the French Open. Before I played in that doubles match with Evonne against Pam Shriver and a former anchor with CNN, I had the privilege, perhaps even trumping the honor of meeting a Pope, of having a one-hour interview with Evonne for an article I wrote for a tennis publication.

When I overcame my severe fear of flying and visited Iceland for a week, the afterglow lasted 10 days when I returned to the Mainland. After I interviewed Evonne for one hour, the afterglow of her spirit, graciousness, aura, and je ne sais quoi lasted at least that long. I lightened up, a nearly impossible feat. After our  interview I wanted to do good things for the world.

Many players on the men’s and women’s professional tours, tennis legends like Martina Navratilova, and tennis fans around the world want Show Court 1 renamed the Evonne Goolagong Arena following the latest inflammatory comments about gays and same-sex marriage by Margaret Court for whom the stadium is currently named.

Is Margaret entitled to her opinion? Sans doute! Does her privilege to exercise free speech carry responsibilities? Sure. If you want to be portrayed as a loving compassionate person of faith, then don’t speak like a bigot. Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King have a stadium and an entire tennis center named after them. Both fought most of their lives for equality.

Evonne Goolagong will be forever associated for her graciousness and lifelong advocacy of inclusiveness. She is currently traveling across Australia to encourage Indigenous young women and men to stay in school and enroll at tennis camps sponsored by her foundation so they gain confidence as athletes and scholars.

Martina Navratilova has pointed out that sporting venues are named for a person’s “whole body of work… who they are as human beings.”

Margaret Court’s cruel ranting for decades against LGBTQI people isn’t free speech. It’s hateful speech that promotes bullying endured every day by women and men of all ages. Read my blog post, Margaret, about my being called a fag last week and getting hit with a Big Mac. I could laugh about it this time around. Decades ago, when it happened the first time, I sought answers no teenager should have to ask: why do people hate me? Only through love, tenacity, luck and finding caring communities do I know now that hatred is not about me — it’s about those who throw Big Macs and shout loathsome words and much, much worse. It’s about people like Margaret Court preaching from a very privileged perch.

Preach all you want, Margaret. If the stadium remains named in your honor, though, I hope it will remain empty.

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