Could a woman by banned from a White House sports ceremony?
That’s exactly what happened when the winning U.S. Davis Cup team from 1969 visited the White House to meet with President Richard Nixon. Former U.S. No. 1 tennis player Cliff Richey discusses the ceremony and how his now ex-wife Mickie was not allowed to attend the meet-and-greet with the President on the White House Lawn from his book ACING DEPRESSION: A TENNIS CHAMPION’S TOUGHEST MATCH ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.CliffRicheyBook.com). Richey was a two-time U.S. Open semifinalist (1970, 1972) and a semifinalist at the French Open in 1970. He finished the 1970 season as the No. 1 ranked American and won the first-ever year-end points title that season. The exclusive book excerpt is found below.
When I met President Nixon at the White House, I was too young to take it all in like I would have later in life. After we won the Davis Cup over Romania in 1969, Donald Dell (the captain that year) informed us at the last minute that we were going to be received at the White House the next day. He had a reputation for doing things at the last minute. We were getting ready to board the plane to go to D.C. Donald almost missed the flight. We had to beg them to keep the airplane doors open so that he could get on. We were saying to the stewardess: “Please, we’re going to see the President!”
When we arrived, first we went to the old executive office building next door to the White House. President Nixon’s executive administrator for sports, Bud Wilkinson, the famous football coach from Oklahoma, received us there. He or an assistant told us what was going to happen next. First we were given a tour of the White House. We received nice little presidential medallions and golf balls with Nixon’s name printed on them. Then we went out on the lawn for a photo op. We were told exactly what to do. We all lined up. I was standing beside my teammate, Clark Graebner. He leaned over and said, “There’s Henry Kissinger.” He was standing on the back porch of the Rose Garden. It’s ironic, given my later interest in politics, but back then I didn’t know Henry Kissinger from a bar of soap!
The most unusual thing I remember was that Nixon would not allow any women at the ceremony. Women were not welcome.
Today that would be considered a colossal gaffe. Poor Mickie didn’t even see the inside of the White House. She had to stay over there at that old executive office building the whole time.
Once we were lined up in order, you could hear somebody say, “Here he comes.” The next thing we knew, Nixon came up. He had a prompter with him. He greeted each person individually. He would say a little something to each one. When he was about three guys down from me, it dawned on me, “What the heck do I say?” I panicked, man. What in the hell do you say to the President of the United States? What could possibly make any sense? He shook my hand. I said, “I’ve heard a lot about you.” How stupid is that?! My insipid comment became almost funny in light of the Watergate scandal four years later.
If you could see me today, you’d never guess I had once graced the White House lawn. I wear blue jeans, a golf shirt, and tennis shoes. My normal accessories are a cowboy belt with silver buckle, engraved with my initials, and a ball cap which often gets stained with sunscreen. I usually need a haircut. The only luxury I allow myself is an 18-karat gold Rolex watch. I bought a 14-karat gold one in 1974, but two years later I bought the 18-karat one because, as they say, “the stars wear 18-karat.”
Co-written with his oldest daughter Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, ACING DEPRESSION ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewChapterMedia.com), is a first-hand account of the life and tennis career of Richey, providing readers with his real-life drama – on and off the tennis court. Richey’s depression is a constant theme, from his genetics and family history, to the tensions of his professional tennis career and family life, to his eventual diagnosis and steps to recover from his condition.
Jimmy Connors, the five-time U.S. Open champion and a friend of Richey’s penned the Foreword for ACING DEPRESSION.
Writes Connors, “What made Cliff Richey what he was on the tennis court has certainly carried over into this book. His story has taken a subject, depression—which has affected him personally—and put it out there for everyone to see. Depression has been a subject that no one really talks about. Few people even admit to having such a condition. But Cliff is not afraid to be bold and reveal what he has gone through and what it takes to get a handle on this disease…Just as Cliff played tennis, he is studying how depression works; what its weaknesses are; and what strategies you can use against it. His hope is that people who read his story can learn—learn about the disease and learn that people who suffer can have a better quality of life. Things can get better. There is hope.”
Richey was known as the original “Bad Boy” of tennis, before there was John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase. His 26-year career was highlighted by a 1970 season where he led the United States to the Davis Cup title, finished as the first-ever Grand Prix world points champion and won one of the most exciting matches in American tennis history that clinched the year-end No. 1 American ranking. He won both of his singles matches in the 5-0 U.S. victory over West Germany in the 1970 Davis Cup final, while he beat out rivals Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith to win the first-ever Grand Prix world points title the precursor to the modern day ATP rankings. At the 1970 Pacific Coast Championships at the Berkeley Tennis Club in Berkeley, Calif., he earned the No. 1 U.S. ranking when he beat Smith in a fifth-set tie-breaker, where both players had simultaneous match point in a sudden-death nine-point tie-breaker at 4-4. He also reached the semifinals of both the 1970 French and U.S. Opens, losing a famous match to Zeljko Franulovic of Yugoslavia in the French semifinals, despite holding match points and leading by two-sets-to-one and 5-1 in the fourth set. He and his sister Nancy, a former French and Australian singles champion, are regarded by some as the best brother-sister duo in tennis history.
During his career, Richey was know for tantrums and boorish behavior simply, however, it served as a mask for his internal struggle with clinical depression. During his darkest days, Richey would place black trash bags over the windows of his house, stay in bed all day and cry. With the same determination that earned him the nick-name “The Bull,” Richey fought against his depression that was not diagnosed until just before his 50th birthday during a routine visit to the skin doctor. Since his happenstance diagnosis, Richey has steadily been taking anti-depressant drugs that have greatly improved his quality of life and moved him to become an advocate for mental health, speaking at numerous events and gatherings across the country.
“I have been given so many second chances in my life,” Richey says in the book. “The beautiful thing is that in recovery, almost everything in your life becomes a second chance. Hope is the foundation of our great country of America. Hope is such a driver of the normal human condition. The sum total of my awful disease was “loss of hope.” That’s the truly awesome thing about recovery: once you come back, your whole life after that feels like a second chance.”
Through 10 years of recovery, with the aid of antidepressant medication, he began to feel well for the first time in his life. The fight is not over, he says, but he encourages those suffering from depression to “never give up.” “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” gives a personal face to an epidemic disease that afflicts one of 20 Americans. Penned with passion and candor, this memoir is a deeply human story of nightmare and redemption.
The book has also received acclaim and endorsements in the mental health community.
Said Jackie Shannon, the Past President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Real men do get depression—even champion athletes. Cliff’s story is an inspiration to all those who are battling mental illnesses and a wake-up call to the public.” Said Lynn Lasky Clark, President and CEO of Mental Health America of Texas, “This straight forward, honest and intensely personal account of Cliff Richey’s experiences with tennis and depression is truly inspirational. Cliff Richey approaches his recovery from depression with great passion and determination. He provides hope and understanding through this powerful memoir.” Said Lynn Rutland, the Executive Director of MHMR (Mental Health, Mental Retardation), “The Richey’s inspired a whole generation of kids to believe in themselves and strive for excellence. Cliff’s story gives people hope when life has dealt them darkness. The battle for the mind is one that Cliff will never lose through lack of effort as he offers insight into his own struggles and victories. His story will continue to make a difference for those suffering with depression.”