For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
Martina Navratilova, currently part of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Colorado’s controversial Amendment 2, which curtails gay rights, wishes more people had a cause in life. “I believe that if you plug hard enough, things will happen,” she told the Washington Post. “I just wish more people would do their little bit here or there because we could really make a difference.” - Mark Preston / March 1993
"The time to speak up is now."
The quote comes from Martina Navratilova’s Twitter profile, and it tells you all you need to know about the legendary former No. 1. She won 167 singles titles and 177 doubles titles over a career that spanned more than three decades, but given her willingness to expose social injustices, Navratilova’s influence is seen and felt far beyond the sports world.
Born in communist Czechoslovakia, Navratilova defected to the U.S. when she was just 18. She became an U.S. citizen five years later in 1981, the same year she confirmed to media that she was a lesbian.
“[Gay people] were deemed crazy and criminals and pedophiles,” says Navratilova of the early 1980s. “I wasn’t the face of anything back then because there was nothing to be a face of.”
It wasn’t until Colorado’s 1992 amendment effectively allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation that Navratilova realized she could help change public perception of the gay community. After the amendment passed, her publicist received over 100 calls asking for comment. Navratilova had plenty to say, and people wanted to listen.
The Hall of Famer has since donated her time, money and star power to organizations around the world, consistently supporting gay rights, animal rights and underprivileged children. Always willing to play an exhibition for a good cause, she’s a regular participant in her legendary rival Chris Evert’s annual charity event.
Navratilova also became an inspiration for a whole new contingent in 2000, when she added breast cancer to her long list of vanquished opponents. Months after finishing treatment, she attempted to scale 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro. High altitude pulmonary edema would force her off the mountain before reaching the summit, but not before raising over $60,000 for the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation.
The recipient of countless awards and accolades for her activism, the 62-year-old stays close to the pro game as a commentator for Tennis Channel. Just don’t expect any match updates or analysis from her on Twitter—she reserves the platform for weightier topics.
“Gay rights, women’s rights, the meat industry—there are so many issues,” says Navratilova. “Whenever I see anything that’s not fair, I speak out, and I’ll always keep doing that.”