Is excellence enough while black in America? Though it comes at a lofty price in general; black excellence, I’d venture to say; you’d have to be black to fully understand the emotional toll.
To be considered great in an arena dominated by those very-much unlike you is a tremendous feat in and of itself. Serena Williams reached this pinnacle through determination, mental ability, and sheer desire to win.
Her father, Richard Williams compensated for the adversity his daughters were bound to face while grooming them to be champions in the mean streets of Compton, California.
In his autobiography, ‘‘Black and White: The Way I See It,’’ he describes toughening the girls’ ‘‘skin’’ by bringing ‘‘busloads of kids from the local schools into Compton to surround the courts while Venus and Serena practiced. I had the kids call them every curse word in the English language, including ‘Nigger,’ ’’ he writes. ‘‘I paid them to do it and told them to ‘do their worst.’ ’’ His focus on racism meant that the sisters were engaged in two battles on and off the court. That level of vigilance, I know from my own life, can drain you. It’s easier to shut up and pretend it’s not happening, as the bitterness and stress build up.
This is one element Serena’s peers are fortunately not burden with.
According to a reporter with the NYT:
She understands that even when she’s focused only on winning, she is still representing. ‘‘I play for me,’’ Serena told me, ‘‘but I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that. So ultimately, when I am out there on the court, I am playing for me.’’
Serena is still often criticized by tennis fans for a 2009 incident where she lost her cool after a bad call and was overheard threatening to jam a tennis ball down a lineswoman’s throat; even though, that display of unprofessionalism happened more than six-years ago and like most, she has evolved saying,
‘‘I don’t want any incidents there,’’ she said. ‘‘But I’m always going to be myself. If anything happens, I’m always going to be myself, true to myself.’’
And though she dominates on the court, her friendly rival Maria Sharapova has a slight financial advantage off-court as Forbes’ list her as the highest-paid female athlete with an estimated net worth of $29 million compared to Serena’s $24 million.
Her response to this shows diplomacy at its best.
‘‘If they want to market someone who is white and blond, that’s their choice,’’ Serena told me when I asked her about her ranking.
As for her friend and rival, Serena says, ‘‘I’m happy for her, because she worked hard, too. There is enough at the table for everyone.’’
Serena is well aware, that the bitter comes along with the sweet insisting, ‘‘We have to be thankful, and we also have to be positive about it so the next black person can be No. 1 on that list.’’
Champions too are flawed and that’s what makes this extraordinary woman seem ordinary.
Thank goodness she’s a person whose desire to win exceeds her desire for approval or the adoration of fans. And this is what I think she means when saying, “I am playing for me.”
Next week, Serena Williams will begin her journey towards a 22nd Grand Slam title at the 2015 US Open and mark my words, she will go down as the greatest-to-ever-do-it!
Tags: Serena Williams
Photo credit IG, Serena Williams