Fair. Balanced. American.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A must read

The New York Times magazine piece on Venus and Serena Williams. These two women deserve a book, but one begins to see why future generations will begin to understand their monumental contribution to society.

The mention of “you boo us” isn’t random. Richard was referring, without mentioning it explicitly, to the notorious incident at Indian Wells, Calif., in 2001, still a recent memory when “Raising Tennis Aces” was shot. People argue about exactly what went down that day, but the flash point was that Venus withdrew from a semifinal match against Serena. She didn’t feel well enough to play. Tendinitis. It’s often reported that she did this with only minutes to go before the match, but in her book (“On the Line,” a better-than-average entry in the genre of the co-written sports memoir), Serena wrote that Venus had been telling the trainer for hours she didn’t think she could do it. T[...] A day before, the Russian player Elena Dementieva had joked-not-joked that Richard would decide which of his girls went on to the final.

Two days later, when the family returned to the court for Serena’s match against the big-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters, the crowd began to boo. Both Richard and Serena assert that they heard the word “nigger.” The booing continued throughout the match, which Serena won in a display of all but inexplicable poise — or really something more like fearsomeness, when you witness it. But the most astonishing and little-remarked moment occurred before the match even started, when Richard and Venus walked down to their seats in the players’ box. The booing intensified — it was Venus, after all, who committed the sin, and Richard whom many despised for his frequently asinine Svengali persona[...]. He turned and faced the crowd, as if to show them his lack of fear. He said a few things back, you can’t hear what. And then he raised his left fist in the air, like John Carlos at the ’68 Olympics. He held it there for a few seconds. The look in his face suggests that he did it almost with a kind of irony. Still, the boldness of the gesture stuns. Tennis had never seen anything like that.


In her postmatch remarks, Serena thanked her father for giving her strength, after first thanking, as she almost invariably does, Jehovah God. “I want to thank those who supported me,” she added. “And if you didn’t, I love you guys anyway.” But not so much, as it turned out. It has been more than a decade since that day, and the Williams sisters have never returned to Indian Wells, one of the tour’s bigger tournaments. [...]

After I moved through the congratulations and the how-are-you-feeling (she showed me the locations of her various scars, including a long and nasty one on her shin), I asked her about Indian Wells. “I’m not going to ask you if you’ll ever go back,” I said, “because I know you won’t. I just want to know if that’s your personal decision or a family decision.”

“It was my decision,” she said, sounding not so much annoyed as saddened by the subject. The rest of her answer, reproduced here in its entirety, surprised me both with its eloquence and its confidence. It was a woman’s answer, not a girl’s. And not a diva’s. She wasn’t trying to be provocative. She was letting her yes be yes and her no be no, the way Oracene had taught her.

“I don’t know if my dad said something. But I don’t need to go back there. They don’t like me. I don’t need to be there. If you can boo a teenager, and you can be white and 60 years old, you know what? I’m cool on you. I can understand maybe if they were 20, 15. But like at the French Open, the crowd boos you, but they’re young, they’re kids, they’re a younger crowd. It is what it is. You just know every time you go to Paris, you get booed, but you see so many kids in the crowd. At Indian Wells, everybody goes there when they’re retired. It’s like Palm Beach. I thought, People like Martin Luther King Jr. boycotted things. And this is nothing on that level. Look at Muhammad Ali, he didn’t even play, he went to jail because he didn’t want to go to war. The least I can do is stand up for my people and not go there. That’s the very least I can do. It’s not even that hard of a decision. I get a vacation on those two weeks. It’s like the easiest decision of my career. They can penalize me to death, I’m never going back.”