When MaliVai Washington heard about former tennis pro James Blake being roughed up and handcuffed by police officers in front of a New York City hotel Wednesday, he was stunned.
Washington, a native of Long Island who grew up in Michigan and reached the 1996 Wimbledon final, found it difficult to believe that Blake would be the target of physical treatment by police.
Internal affairs detectives are investigating claims by Blake that he was thrown to the ground and then handcuffed while mistakenly being arrested, police said. Blake, 35, was released at the scene once police realized who he was.
"I think I'm a pretty straight-up guy, but James is as straight up as it gets," Washington said Thursday morning at the National Tennis Center.
He said he texted Blake to see if he was OK and that they exchanged messages. He commended Blake for keeping his composure in the situation.
"One of the things I told him is you are a better man than I am," Washington said. "I don't know if on a city street in New York I would have had the same reaction, same frame of mind to not defend myself when I'm being attacked by someone who hasn't identified themselves. Fortunately for himself and his safety, he was clear-minded enough to comply and not respond.
"Situations like that, if you respond all of a sudden you are charged with assault, resisting arrest. I can't for the life of me figure out how in his frame of mind he was able to react so appropriately."
Washington was trying to make sense of the situation as he responded to questions from Newsday.
"If the details I heard [on television] and the details I've read about are accurate that someone did not identify who they were and someone who was in plainclothes tackled him or aggressively grabbed him and put him on the ground, that to me is highly inappropriate and highly unprofessional.
"I would imagine in some neighborhoods, if someone does that to you you're going to fight back. You wonder who the heck is attacking me. From the details I heard, it was an attack."
Washington, 46, is in the real estate business in the Jacksonville, Florida, area. He is a television analyst at the Open. He lost to Richard Krajicek in the 1996 Wimbledon final, becoming the first African-American male to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Arthur Ashe won Wimbledon in 1975. Washington also won four ATP titles.
He said he played Blake, who is biracial, once toward the end of Washington's career. "It was Newport in 1999. I lost," he said with smiling emphasis.