Persuasion Tip from Tennis Legend Arthur Ashe

When I was a kid, my favorite tennis player was Arthur Ashe, who won the 1968 U.S. Open and became, as an amateur, the first African-American to win a men’s major tennis championship.    I was watching a televised documentary about him last night when I learned an interesting tidbit about his life and his skills as an orator.

In 1973, Ashe traveled to South Africa to play a tournament, despite the protests of anti-apartheid activists. He wanted to play there not to support the government, but to build relationships that would eventually help with anti-apartheid protests.

During his visit, he took time out from the competition to visit a local university and debate a college professor on the subject of apartheid.

During the debate, Ashe identified an elderly black man who was seated in the audience next to a white man. “All that is well and good sir,” Ashe apparently said to the professor. “But how do you explain how that man is not allowed to vote and that man seated next to him is allowed to vote? How do you explain how that man is not free and the man seated next to him is free?”

It was a turning point in the debate and incredibly powerful.

The lesson here is that often the simplest analogies are the most powerful.  Ashe used the members of the audience to shame his opponent into admitting the unfairness of the apartheid system.

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