Serving Up Justice: The James Blake Story

Former tennis player James Blake was wrongly arrested in New York City in 2015, but since that day, Blake has transformed into an activist for racial equality.

by Ryan Connell

It was September 9th 2015, James Blake awaited the arrival of a car service to take him from the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York City to the US Tennis Center to spectate the US Open. Standing alone outside of a hotel and minding his own business, waiting to go watch the sport that made him famous; things seemed normal. Blake was then ambushed by an unidentified bald man who tackled him to the ground; he twisted his left arm and grabbed him by the neck as he threw him face-first on the concrete, slapping on handcuffs without ever showing a badge.

“I’m complying 100 percent, whatever you say,” Blake said to the arresting officer as he knew retaliation could make for more drama. The unidentified officer pulled Blake to his feet just outside the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, only a few hundred yards away from Grand Central Station. After he was brought to his feet, more undercover officers emerged only to find out that they had arrested the wrong man. They un-cuffed him and, “I thought to just brush it off. I was an athlete after all, “am I not tough enough?” I’m tough enough to brush this off,” Blake said.

James Blake serving to former tennis pro Tommy Haas on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018, in the Invesco series QQQ Men’s Legends at the Connecticut Open at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. photo courtesy of Emily Snider - photograph by Catherine Avalone Hearst Connecticut Media

Blake informed his wife of what happened and after some deliberation she made it clear that she wanted him to stand up for himself. “What if this had happened to me or someone else you cared about,” she said. Her outrage really resonated with Blake.

Jame Blake considered filing a lawsuit against the New York Police Department in September 2015, but instead was invited to speak with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio before he could submit a lawsuit. After meeting with Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, Blake ended up not filing a lawsuit against the department, but instead the officer who wrongfully arrested him, James Frascatore.

Frascatore, NYPD officer, has quite a checkered past. According to NYPD reports to the New York Daily News, “The NYPD received five civilian complaints about Frascatore in a matter of seven months in 2013.” The worst penalty he received for any of his complaints was a loss of five days of vacation.

After two years of waiting, Blake got his day to testify in court on September 19, 2017. Blake said this about Frascatore, “He never said ‘NYPD.’ He never said ‘officer.’” The officer tried to say that he said ‘sorry’ to Blake when he was released for being wrongfully arrested, but Blake has no recollection of that ever happening.

“If it could happen to me, a former top 5 tennis player in the world, who lived the luxurious lifestyle of an athlete, it could happen to anyone,” Blake proclaimed.

The only penalty officer James Frascatore received from the NYPD was a loss of five vacation days, the same discipline he received for his five complaints over a seven month span back in 2013.

Life for James Blake has always been different. Growing up in predominantly wealthy white suburb of Fairfield, Connecticut, James took up the traditionalist sport of tennis and attended Harvard University pursuing a degree in business administration, before turning to professional tennis. As the child of a white mother and black father, his opinion was often sought after on any number of racial issues in sports. But he was not an activist. He was a tennis player with a unique backstory and a conscience. For many years that made him open minded enough.

Being open minded enough, has taken a turn to full-fledge activist, Blake wants, “to give a voice to the people who don’t have the platform to have their voice heard.”

James Blake speaking to children about the importance of treating people equally. photo courtesy of Emily Snider

After releasing his book “Ways of Grace in 2017, a book about Blake’s rise to activism and other individuals throughout history that have used sports as their platform of activism, Blake has continued to speak out against police brutality and finds it harder for himself to think straight.

“It has changed me. I still want to and do trust the majority of police officers. My fight for accountability is to get rid of the small percentage that are doing the job the wrong way. I feel like they are tarnishing the badge. The badge is something that should be honored, and I think we need to focus on the ones that are doing the job the right way and get rid of the ones that are not doing it the right way. It’s their shield to do whatever they want.”

About Colin Kaepernick, Blake says, “It started as a silent peaceful protest against police brutality, against racism and inequality in this country. In a similar fashion to sitting in the front of a bus for Rosa Parks, something that was completely unjust, she did something against the rules at the time. What Kaepernick did wasn’t against any rules. It was against a tradition to stand for the anthem.”

As much as athletes and sports are used to get away from politics, Blake thinks that these figures have quite an importance in the world.

“For all those people who want to say, ‘Just play sports and shut up,’ there are athletes who say: ‘No, I have a conscience and I’m going to say what I want to say. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to be a fan of mine. But it’s my right to speak my mind.’”

Blake has used his platform of being both and author and an athlete to get out his message. As for what he does now, “Well, I consider myself a dad before all else, but besides that, an author and activist who is determined to give people the voice they deserve.”

Carol Taylor, Blake’s co-author for “Ways of Grace,” loves the type of work Blake is doing.

“People need to realize that James Blake is taking on an issue that so many people face. Just because he is an athlete, doesn’t mean he gets treated differently. You saw what happened to him in 2015, if he can be affected by racial profiling and inequality at the level that he is at, it can happen to anyone. His voice might carry more weight as a former athlete, but he is doing this not for himself, but for the betterment of the people that can’t speak up and fight back.”

James Blake now serves as a public speaker on the matter of injustice and racial inequality. He goes to schools, recreation centers, local political rallies and other public events trying to spread his message. “I tour around speaking about what has happened to me, because I don’t want it to happen to someone else.” He thinks that his message is getting across and the future pushes for change, but Blake believes that sports will be the most influential way change is generated. “Kids and youth are influenced by things that they love, let’s unite sports and let athletes use their voice to advocate and later create change moving forward.”

James Blake has been retired from professional tennis for five years, and has been touring the country as a speaker since December of 2015. “Tennis has played such a big part of my life for so long, but now I decided to shift my focus away from the sport and onto equality” Blake said. He also believes that he will continue to speak out. “At the end of the day, the most important things in my life now are my family and speaking out. I will always consider myself a family man first, but being an advocate for racial equality is just as important” Blake said.

As James Blake and fellow athletes try to quell the issue of racial inequality, Blake knows it won’t be done overnight. “Creating change in our society isn’t done swiftly, it takes a while to gain traction, develop and get to a point where change can be talked about. As long as athletes like Colin Kaepernick continue to speak out and use their platform of being an athlete to spread their message, we will continue to get closer to change. It’s might take weeks, months or years for change to occur, but I’m in for the long haul.”