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PHILADELPHIA – A state history group has again rejected a proposed marker honoring tennis ace Bill Tilden, whose complicated legacy includes three Wimbledon titles but also two arrests for sexual misconduct with teenage boys.
Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920 and won seven U.S. championships. In 1950, The Associated Press voted him the greatest player of the first half of the century.
A year ago, a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission panel that approves the markers rejected a plan to put a marker at Philadelphia's Germantown Cricket Club, citing Tilden's convictions in the 1940s. Tilden had spent seven months in jail after police caught him with a 14-year-old boy in his car and another 10 months at a prison farm for violating probation.
Karen Galle, who coordinates the historical marker program, confirmed on Wednesday that the commission had again voted against a Tilden marker on March 22 after it had earlier voted 4-1 to reject the idea.
"While the significance of this athlete's tennis career and talent are indisputable, his convictions for sexual misconduct with underage boys preclude recognition," commission spokesman Howard Pollman said.
The approval of a historical marker "may be perceived to dishonor victims of sexual abuse," Pollman said.
Historians have said the state is trying to heal from the sexual-abuse scandal involving another sports figure, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was convicted of molesting several boys but maintains he's innocent and is appealing.
Tilden was arrested in Beverly Hills, California, in November 1946 after the 14-year-old was caught driving the star's car erratically. Officers reported that when the teen exited the car, his pants zipper was down. Police charged Tilden, who was in the car, with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he signed a confession.
Tilden was arrested again in 1949 after he was caught in the company of one teen boy and was accused of groping another teen.
Tilden, born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, was featured regularly in magazines, newspapers and newsreels during his career. He was friends with Hollywood elite and played at the White House at the invitation of President Warren Harding. He's credited with urging children of all economic backgrounds to learn tennis, once a sport only for the wealthy, and modern players still value his manuals on how to play.
After Tilden's convictions, his Germantown membership was revoked and his portrait was removed. He died in 1953.
In recent years, the Germantown club has begun to embrace Tilden's memory, and a group of Philadelphia residents has been lobbying for a historical marker at the site.