In Defense of the White House Tennis Pavilion

Last week, First Lady Melania Trump announced the completion of the White House’s new tennis pavilion and restoration of its tennis court. Melania  – noted racist birther and drinker of Christmas haterade – issued a press release that read:

The project included the refurbishment of the White House Tennis Court and Grandchildren’s Garden along with construction of the new building. Design of the structure was inspired by the existing architecture of the White House, in particular the East and West Wings. Elements such as the colonnade, parapet wall, and fanlight windows tie the new building to the existing look and feel of the White House.

The new building was funded by private donations.

In the wretched time of COVID, with so many Americans suffering, the First Lady got a lot of blowback about being tone deaf and frivolous with the unveiling, akin to Condoleezza Rice shopping for boots at Ferragamo in Manhattan as Hurricane Katrina raged. But as I look out at my Biden-Harris flag still flapping in the New England wind, let me say, I love the tennis pavilion.

It’s no secret that I love tennis. I play tennis. I watch tennis. I obsess over the latest tennis kits. My dad is a tennis coach, and my daughter’s first word was Rafa.

Admittedly, it’s a weird time for me right now, because not only do I love the tennis pavilion, I also really like Melania’s 2020 Christmas urns. Hell, I even liked the red cones of doom. The problem with those decorations is really the White House’s mint-green carpet that appears better suited for the floors of cult-leader Mary Cosby’s living room.

Let’s be honest here: the old tennis pavilion looked like shit. It needed replacement. As for the court itself, the Obamas had repurposed the tennis surface for basketball. An outraged Don Lemon said Melania’s goal was to remove anything the Obamas had done. This is probably 100% true, but I can’t be bothered. She didn’t turn it into a bocce court or a barre studio. It’s a tennis court! You know, the kind that Serena and Venus play on.

Ready? Play.

Tennis, like golf, has a reputation for being a white, country club sport. A lot of clubs still insist you wear white while on court. Is this Wimbledon? No, it’s the Fairlawn Racquet Club right off the Garden State Parkway.

But compared to golf, tennis is accessible. Public courts abound. Yes, private tennis lessons are pricey, which is a tough one to solve, because I believe in paying people their worth, and many tennis pros barely eke out a living and are often contract employees without benefits. I can’t imagine paying them a lot less.

The USTA is working hard to make tennis a sport for everyone, with its Net Generation and National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) programs. Net Generation gives out free racquets and training balls for families wanting to get started. Playing tennis is really that simple.

I’m very lucky that Ruby’s dad and I can afford to put our daughter in group tennis lessons at the International Tennis Hall of Fame club where we live. But Ruby – proud Newport public school kid — often lamented that all the other kids in her tennis group went to the private schools on the island. She wanted to play with kids she saw every day, to feel like she was a part of a team.

(see if you can spot Ruby doing her David Rose impression at the 0:43 mark)

Newport was not serving our student population, so the tireless Marguerite Marano and Clayton Vaughters started TeamFame, an NJTL program, to make tennis accessible for all of Newport’s public school kids, 70% of whom are on free or reduced lunch. Three days a week*, Ruby plays tennis with her peers. We have a feast of riches here, with our history and tennis professionals at the Hall of Fame, and now Ruby and her crew have access to that, along with homework help, nutritional meals, and controlled mayhem at the end of a school day.

And don’t forget, tennis is a sport for life. I play every Tuesday with an 80-year-old man who is ambidextrous and unreadable on the net. My mom is 74 and can still smoke my ass, with her nasty junk slice. At age 47, I’m the youngest player on my USTA ladies’ team.

Even in winter, in much of the continental US and all of Hawaii, you can still play outside while staying safe and socially distanced. One of the greatest joys in 2019 was watching my dad feed balls to Ruby and her cousin last Christmas, outside on a public court. Once COVID is handled, I want that joy again.

We should celebrate tennis and the new tennis pavilion, not make an easy dunk drop shot on it.

Game, Set, Match, Biden

Another joy I am expecting is watching Melania Trump leave the White House and her tennis pavilion behind. The White House and its grounds belong to the people and the person we elected to our highest office. And no matter how many people the Proud Boys stab, that person is Joe Biden.

I am envisioning First Lady Dr. Jill Biden whacking balls with a smiling Frances Tiafoe** followed by a light lunch in the pavilion. They will toast to Melania, as all the Trumps – except Tiffany – are arrested for their crimes in New York State. Dr. Biden and Frances will raise a glass and say, “I really don’t care. Do you?” with a delightful trill of laughter.

If you would like to support an amazing program like TeamFame that helps to grow the sport of tennis to all children, you can do so at this link.

*This schedule is pre-‘tine times, obvi.

**The son of Sierra Leone immigrants, Frances Tiafoe first picked up a racquet at age 4, playing with his brother as his dad worked as the custodian/facility manager at a USTA tennis facility manager in College Park, Maryland.

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