USTA Pride Month Spotlight: Marilyn Sherman
To celebrate Pride Month, USTA.com, in conjunction with the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Department and Partners Business Resource Group (BRG) is spotlighting USTA administrators who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and the role that they play in making tennis a welcoming space for all. Kicking off the series is USTA League National Promotions Manager Marilyn Sherman.
If you've ever competed at or attended a USTA League National Championship, you've seen Marilyn Sherman at work.
In her nearly 13-year tenure with the USTA national staff, Sherman (pictured, above right) has worked primarly in advancing and developing the USTA's flagship recreational league program, which boasts over 300,000 unique players across the 17 USTA sections, helping attract and retain adult participants in the sport.
Dating back five decades, Sherman's love for the game started in her youth in South Florida. She first took up tennis "comparatively late" at age 12, but nonetheless had the opportunity to share a court with one of the greatest players of all time as a teenager.
"I jokingly like to say that I'm the only person who brags about a 6-0, 6-0 loss to Chris Evert," she said with a laugh. "I played Chris three days after she got to the semifinals of the US Open and became famous, in our state high school tournament. With a match like that, I was either going to run away from tennis or towards it. But I'm really lucky to say that I have worked my entire life, from 18 years old on, in the sport."
Sherman began her career at her local club, rising through the ranks to become its director, and later worked for over 20 years as a certified tennis professional at facilities that include a public tennis center in North Carolina and a private tennis club in Atlanta. After a knee injury took her off the courts, however, she moved into the administrative side of tennis.
"I moved to Atlanta thinking I was going to get a job working for the  Olympics, but I was offered a job with USTA Southern instead," she said. "And I thought, 'That one might have longer legs,' in terms of tennis, and I spent 15 years as the director of adult tennis for the Southern section before being hired by the national office."
While her professional career in tennis was developing, however, Sherman also had to face a crossroads in her personal life.
"When I first became a director of tennis in my hometown, I was married to my high school sweetheart, Bobby, and figured out that I was gay," she said. "This is in 1985, and at that time, there is no way that I can have that position and be a gay person. So I left town, and I found another tennis job in another state.
"By the time I worked for USTA Southern [beginning in 1993], a lot of people knew, but I wasn't what you'd call 'totally out.' My partner at the time, who is now my wife, got a really nice job opportunity from Atlanta to Dallas, so it became something where there would be no reason why I'd otherwise be leaving this really big job with USTA Southern. It was kind of the big 'coming out' for me, and it went really, really well, I have to say.
"I wish I had been brave enough to come out much earlier after the super supportive farewell I received from the players, volunteers and staff at USTA Southern. They even named an annual award after me [the Marilyn Sherman Spirit Award, given since 2010], which is something that has brought me great joy, as it celebrates the spirit of bringing people into tennis."
During their time in Dallas, Sherman and her partner Susie Oliver helped to create "Sets in the City," a community tennis group for women in the LGBTQ+ community that now boasts over 350 members, several USTA teams and a weekly introductory program, catering to all skill levels. The group also awards an annual scholarship in Sherman's name to a college-bound student-athlete from a Dallas National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapter.
"We didn't know a soul in Dallas, and we used tennis to get to know people," she said. "It strikes me in a lot of ways to think about, but truly that really allowed me to blend my professional and personal life in a way that was so meaningful."
In addition to her position on USTA League's national staff, Sherman currently serves as one of the co-chairs of the USTA's Partners BRG, which serves as a resource for the organization's LGBTQ+ employees and helps coordinate outreach to the broader community. This has included participation in Pride events and parades at both the national and section level; initiating the USTA's partnership with HomeField Alliance, a networking group of LGBTQ+ professionals who work in sports and entertainment; and coordinating US Open Pride and the inaugural panel event at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2019.
As one of the USTA's leaders in community tennis, Sherman has shown no signs of slowing down as she continues to advocate for inclusion and acceptance in the sport.
"The USTA's approach to the LGBTQ+ community is total acceptance and inclusion," she said. "With the BRG, we want to be out in the community and bringing people into tennis, whether that's at an LGBTQ+ youth event or something like that, where we're introducing the sport to people. From the local level to what we do nationally, I think it's all so incredibly important.
"We also educate our own staff, and ultimately, I truly think that the younger generation is teaching us. Maybe we 'paved the way,' so to speak, but now to live authentically from the beginning is the way it should be for everybody. My generation, most of us didn't feel like we could.
"I think that tennis is just an amazing sport for anyone, and what I hope is that the sport, in any way that we possibly can, can be something that knocks down all the doors for people."
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