How comfort with herself helps Megan Moulton-Levy shape tennis' next generation
Megan Moulton-Levy’s tennis career is one that’s been defined by openness—and she’s using her experiences both on and off the court to help shape the sport’s next generation.
For the last seven years since retiring from the WTA tour, Moulton-Levy has been an integral member of the support staff at the Junior Tennis Champions’ Center (JTCC), one of the premiere tennis facilities in the Mid-Atlantic. She’s currently its general manager of player development, where she oversees all aspects of the high-performance program that’s developed professional players including Hailey Baptiste, Denis Kudla, Robin Montgomery and Frances Tiafoe—but, she says, creating the next international superstar isn’t one of her primary goals.
“The place that tennis has in my life is not just about pursuing it at a professional level. It really was as a platform or a vehicle of expression, a creative outlet—and our kids have an opportunity to do that here,” Moulton-Levy says. “There’s a community of people here; when you’re a youngster, you have some of the older kids coming back and working with you. There are mentoring relationships, there’s value placed on giving back and character development … It’s not just about you as a tennis player, it's really about you as a person. I couldn't be anywhere else really, and also have the opportunity to pursue tennis at a high level. It's those two things that have made this a really special place for me.”
“Not only was I out, but they were so warm and welcoming,” she says of her time on tour. “I felt nothing but joy for the fact that I was a part of that community and felt really honored to be recognized in that way with my marriage being highlighted on the website."
She’s largely felt a similar sentiment since transitioning to coaching, with Portell and their children omnipresent in her tennis life. “I’m a Black, gay female, so it’s almost like there are three areas in which I could be discriminated against, but I’ve been allowed to and been given the platform to really lead in this organization,” she adds.
“I feel so grateful for the opportunity and being given the space to do so. I guess I would say that either I've taken, or I've been given, the right to be myself … to be gay in all my gayness, Black in all my Blackness and woman in all my womanness.
“To be able to teach these kids and have no one get offended by that, it’s a pretty big deal. I can say that some of me has been fearful about what parents' response will be to me … but no one’s batted an eye. For my population of students who are gay, it's a really big deal to have someone like me in this position—not just in this position actually, but even just being around. If they're feeling a lot of shame and if some of them are confused, I give them the space to be who they are and who they want to be. I think that that's important for some of these kids.”
Moulton-Levy is likewise helping to shape tennis’ future through her role on the USTA Board of Directors. As one of three former WTA pros currently on the Board as Elite Athlete representatives, Moulton-Levy is part of a cohort that’s helping to build, foster and maintain a more inclusive and equitable environment for tennis across all levels of the organization.
“I occupy a unique space on the Board because I was an elite athlete and I played tennis at the highest level. But as I mentioned earlier, my mindset is all about the joy and the love of the sport. It happened to put me in a place to compete at the WTA level, but that's not at all what I wanted,” she says. “I feel like sometimes when you have people who've been high-level athletes, they miss the journey of becoming a high-level athlete: how it looks for other people, what it looks like to someone who's just beginning. What are their goals and how can those goals be transformed and morphed into bigger goals?
“I have a bottom-up approach to how I view tennis, my own story and everyone else's story, and the fact that I am still coaching and managing a performance operation. Former players are not often in this role to be able to contribute at this level on the Board. I think what I'm currently doing and my mindset towards tennis and the gift it has been in my life is a big part of the reason why I wanted to be able to give back to the tennis community at large.
"We're not making the daily decisions of what happens within the USTA, but just be an overall guide to the direction that the organization is moving, with an emphasis on grassroots and building relationships between all the different sectors of the USTA. [We're asking], what is everyone's place? What are the relationships between all of these different sectors and how do we really impact the growth of the game?”
To do that successfully, Moulton-Levy says that input from a variety of voices is critical—something that she hopes will last long into the future. She credits Marisa Grimes, the USTA’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, with shifting the association’s overall mindset in pursuit of these objectives.
“She's doing such an outstanding job of making sure that it's woven within everything we do,” Moulton-Levy says. “If you're talking about attracting, engaging, retaining a diverse set of new tennis participants, the word diversity is in there. If you're talking about creating a world-class digital infrastructure, the word diversity is in there. She's making sure that, in every aspect of the business, diversity is being talked about and thought about. By no means is it perfect, but there's a person and a system in place, or coming into place, that is going to make sure that we're more mindful and thoughtful about how we move forward in that area.”
“It’s a multi-year process,” she adds. “Some of these systems and processes are going to take a while to implement. ... What I can say is that it's a big part of the conversation in a way that it hasn't been in the past. “I've only been involved with the organization at this level for three years, but I can tell you that in the past three years, I think our whole country has been encouraged to look at this a little bit differently.
“When we talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, some people feel isolated from the conversation and even being able to talk about that … that's an important part of the conversation. There’s a lot of intentional effort and input happening. It’s not something where you're coming up with some grand solution to really highlight diversity and encourage a diverse set of participants to join our sport. What we as an organization are trying to do is figure out what the best practices are, and then see if some of those practices can be implemented within our structure. That’s the goal and the hope.”