| By Steven Kaplan

Martina Navratilova spoke at the United Nations on Tuesday and urged the International Olympic Committee "to take their heads out of the sand" and do more to support the rights of gay athletes. This talk of part of International Human Rights Day and is on the heels of the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia which has oppressive laws concerning gay rights.

Martina continues to be a leader. Once called by Bud Collins "The Great Wide Hope," Martina became the first tennis star to embrace ultimate fitness into her game. Martina was also "the first legitimate superstar who literally came out while she was a superstar," Donna Lopiano executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation explained.

In 2006, Billie Jean King called Martina "The greatest singles, doubles and mixed-doubles player who ever lived."

On a personal note, Martina once spoke to me at length in 1989 at the WTA event in Los Angeles about a player of mine, Sandra Birch, a sophomore at Stanford. Sandra was about to play Caterina Lindqvist who, at the time, was the number 10 player in the world. Martina had just beaten Lindqvist in the semifinals of Wimbledon on the way to one of her nine titles. While Martina was a superstar, she could not have been nicer, more helpful and more kind. With her help Sandra was actually up a break in the third set before losing.

When Martina talks, people should listen. I'm glad I did. She continues to inspire us as a courageous pioneer.

Steven Kaplan

Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.