Meet the Pro Tennis Player Serving Up Hope Outside the Court

Lendale Johnson is the first openly gay professional tennis player, and his mission is to share his experience as a double minority athlete in the current social climate. He wants to help others facing similar struggles and start conversations to educate people using his voice and his platform.

Above: Johnson with trophy is from the 2016 Chicago Men’s Longevity Championships – Runner-up

Johnson has spent much of the last year reflecting on his own experiences with racism in the U.S. He has been a victim of racial profiling on more than one occasion, and he feels lucky that those scenarios did not escalate further. He is an active part of the Black Lives Matter movement in Brooklyn, NY, marching in protest alongside the Manwari Black Panthers and makes a point to discuss the movement as frequently as he can.

Johnson’s involvement in the movement does not stop with attending protests and having conversations. Johnson understands the responsibility that comes with being the first openly gay professional tennis player. As a Black man in America and part of the LGBTQ community, he knows that he needs to use his position to open conversation and make a difference.

Above: Childhood photo, “I was about 4 or 5, I think JC Penny’s took that…”

Johnson’s upcoming project for the Black Lives Matter movement is a charity tennis match with the NYPD at his tennis academy, The Johnson High Performance Tennis Academy. His aim is to raise money for the ACLU Racial Justice Program, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and The Okra Project. The match is also being held to provide an outlet for allied officers to share their support.

Johnson is bringing awareness everywhere he can. He is starting conversations and providing resources for people wanting to know how to help and understand the struggles black Americans are facing. Johnson’s mission is to share how as a double minority athlete in the current social climate has caused an immeasurable amount of anxiety, but he has also inspired him to address the issues associated with his identity.

Above: Johnson with a client and mother in Chicago at Lakeshore Drive Park. Follow @lendalejohnson and  @katestutts on Instagram.

Johnson says, “Murder, slavery, dehumanization and racism have plagued my culture way before I was even born. The fact that black people are still being murdered in 2020 by the hands of the justice (law enforcement) system leaves me feeling very alarmed.” He adds, “Enough is enough, law enforcement needs to be held accountable and the systematic racism needs to stop. It pains me to the core seeing my people killed, I (no one) should not have to worry about my (our) lives and safety by just existing.”

Has anything changed since this summer? Absolutely, I’m constantly presented with new ideas and projects. As an entrepreneur I never get a break it seems, we think about what’s the next big idea. What’s the next story? Over the past few months I came to a realization that I had to push my feelings and goals up to the front of the line. Being a Virgo I’m always going out of my way to help others. I saw something on Twitter that said “Swim the ocean for them when they wouldn’t even hop a puddle for you”, this was just an internet meme but it really had me think about my priorities for myself and how I more times than not will help someone I don’t know well just because I can. What that person do the same for me? Does that person even have the power to help me if I needed them? This resonates with me for personal and business relationships. I have had the most media attention on my life this year and so I’m definitely motivated and inspired to work on both short term and long term goals for my pro tennis career and my celebrity tennis academy in New York.

What’s the symbolism behind the King of the New York Junior Kids Day Camp? The kids at my tennis day camp I run in New York being so much joy to my life! I had to think like a kid, summon my inner child. When I created this particular program I thought about what would I want to do if I was a kid. When I was little, what did I want my teacher or coach to do? And so created a game called King of the court for the kids. It challenges them to compete for the “King” title in a fun and related environment on-court and best of all makes them feel valued and important but only here’s the key.. when they earn that crown.

 

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How did you feel being a gay Black man in playing tennis? I felt and still feel ostracized in more ways than not, tennis is predominately a white sport and there are currently no openly gay tennis players on the ATP tour.

How would you describe life in NYC since self-quarantine began?  Honestly it’s been a real nightmare, a bad dream that you cannot wake up from. Being stuck in the house, deprived from life’s daily essentials like human interaction. The increased anxiety as a black man, the covid-19 death reports in the news and social media.

To add to all of this, many of my cis white male friends have been acting out of character sending me ridiculous unsolicited text messages. Many nights I can’t even sleep because of the outrageous fireworks outside of my apartment. They are set off every night like clockwork at the worst time imaginable. Bedtime, and it doesn’t end until 3 or 4 am. As a professional athlete my rest is equally important as my training.

Above: Johnson with CNN news journalist Joe Sutton at the 2016 Equanimity Awards in Dallas TX

What’s your favorite thing about tennis? I feel like it’s the only sport where you literally get a 2nd chance. If you miss your 1st serve, you get a 2nd serve. Honestly there are so many things I absolutely LOVE about tennis, but I’d say traveling the world doing what I love is my favorite thing about tennis and battles on and off the court.