The only times I cared about tennis were when I had to write an index card about Arthur Ashe for a Black history Month project and watching the Williams sisters dominate the tennis. Venus was the best in the world, and then her sister Serena burst onto the scene a few years later with the same energy. I loved watching them play.
Unfortunately, I also ate up all the gossip about them. There were rumors that they had “bad attitudes”. A friend of a friend of a friend claimed that they met the two right after Serena started to gain popularity, and Venus was extremely rude and salty about her sister’s new fame. There is also the “controversy” over Serena and her outbursts at a ball boy and at referees. Sports media had a field day discussing the two times Serena lost her cool on the court. She was also admonished after the fact for wearing a medically required black catsuit at the French open. We also cannot ignore the way we talk about their bodies. The talk would range from prurient idolization to comparing them to animals. I am not sure how many times the meme of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in “Friday” marveling as Serena Williams’s posterior has passed through my inbox. I also am not sure how many times I have heard the Williams sisters’ bodies be compared to men’s or lower apes’ bodies, and how that is an “unfair advantage”. Commentary like this was always by “professionals” and “experts”, and then parroted by armchair athletes and invisible commentators in more colorful terms. Unfounded accusations of artificial performance enhancement abound throughout their careers. Maria Sharapova created and maintained decade long rivalry with Serena Williams of which Serena was unaware or was just not bothered enough to care. She just kept playing her game and consistently beat Sharapova head-to-head 20+ times. Then while pregnant, Williams’s soon-to-be- daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. beat Sharapova while still in utero during each trimester (please do not Google that).
“I also am not sure how many times I have heard the Williams sisters’ bodies be compared to men’s or lower apes’ bodies, and how that is an “unfair advantage”
After pulling the veil from all the rumors and conjecture that have swirled around the Williams Sisters on and off the court, a few things are certain: Their “attitudes” in public are on par with anyone who may be trying to get a coffee and then be interrupted by someone while their hot lattes are slowly becoming warm brown milk. Also, everyone has a bad day. Critics’ derision of Serena’s on court “outbursts” is the polar opposite of their lauding of male players’ “passion” when they lose their cool on the court, no matter the validity of their outbursts. Their bodies are products of athleticism and working harder than most people to be the best at their jobs. And by many accounts, Venus and Serena Williams are the best athletes alive, but it does not have all to do with their hard work.
Twice, I watched a Williams sister lose a match to an opponent, and despite all the shade thrown at them, they lost graciously, and embraced their opponent. When Serena Williams lost the 2018 US Open to Naomi Osaka, the World Tennis Association’s (WTA) first Haitian-Japanese champion, Serena congratulated here and embraced her at the podium. The many articles and offensive cartoons depict Serena as a “sore loser”, but her anger was really about the umpire’s arguably bad call; people just love to hate Serena. She embraced and lauded Osaka for her win. This year, Cori Gauff beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon, becoming the youngest person in the Open area to advance and reach Wimbledon’s main draw. Venus Williams congratulated her and encouraged her to keep going. True athleticism is both physicality and graciousness.
More so, the Williams sisters’ embracing of their opponents shows the importance of black women supporting each other, especially in the same field. The first thing Cori Gauff said to Venus Williams after winning the match was how much she appreciated the elder Williams for paving the way for her to be there, and Venus congratulated her on the good game. These moments of positivity are heartwarming and fly in the face of a common trope. A lot of times I hear about black (and other marginalized) folks in a white dominated same field seeing another kinfolk person and going into defense/competition mode instead of helping each other out in an erstwhile potentially hostile environment. I hear about this a lot, and it is just not necessary, except on the dance floor at the company “holiday” ball. All bets are off, Calvin. With as much negativity that the world regularly throws at them, it is lovely and important to see black women lift each other up in public spaces, especially in times where the world is watching, especially in the face of adversity. I hope this trend of out-in-public love support continues. Venus and Serena Williams did not start this trend. However, the fact that they have done so, and hopefully keeps the momentum going leads me to think they are the greatest athletes of our time.
Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com