"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com
HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa (Sports Network) --
They came, they saw, they conquered. It was as simple as that. I was there during Wimbledon to watch an entire nation, not to mention the world, pay homage to Venus and Serena Williams with an adulation reserved for the stars of stage and screen. They deserved it. They are as athletic as any two women to ever take center stage, or court, and make up in creativity and raw talent what they currently lack in experience, cunning and guile.
Life would have been easier for the entire family if one of them had turned her attention to the hardwood courts and let the other set her sights on dominating the tennis world. That was not to be. It has become a contest of sorts, sprinkled generously with love and mutual respect, but still a contest. They are destined to play one another over and over, sharing victories, trophies, smiles and tears. Last September Serena, the younger of the two, won the first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open as she upset Martina Hingis while a very disappointed Venus watched. In London there was a role reversal at the grandest stage in tennis - Centre Court at Wimbledon.
The press loved it, the crowds loved it, TV cameras came at them like a Midwest twister on rampage and there were more Nikons pointed in their direction with lenses that could see Gibraltar than one would find at a Gore-Bush debate. Venus ultimately dispatched Lindsay Davenport in the finals and the sisters made short work of Ai Sugiyama and Julie Halard-Decugis in the doubles. A new mantel was on order for the Williams household and they would not have to visit the home of Chris Everett, their neighbor in Florida, to see what the jewels of Wimbledon look like.
Richard and Serena Williams sit in the stands as Venus plays in the Women's Wimbledon Final. (Gary M. Prior/ Allsport)
And, then there is Richard Williams, their father. Little is said of his three older daughters, those who did not rise to the same athletic heights of their younger sisters and much, more than was necessary, was made of his influence on Venus and Serena. He did it. No doubt about that. But he has parlayed his 15 minutes into weeks and months of notoriety. He has seized the moment to weave fanciful tales to the press, stories whose credibility border on those of the fabled Arabian Nights, crossing over between truth and fantasy without losing a step. The press flocks to him like homing pigeons returning to their condominium on the roof of a New York skyscraper.
They are 18 and 20, these girls, and they will need an entire wing of any home they build in the future to display all the trophies that await them. But their outspoken father has had his day in the sun. It is time to step back and let the girls enjoy the spotlight...alone. When Venus won the singles title, there he was, dancing with that promised sign that this was his daughter's party and no one else was invited. Actually, it was someone else's party to which he and his talented youngsters were invited.
They won, they are charming, the effuse as much exuberance and sheer delight as they disseminate talent on the court. When Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in possibly grander fashion than anyone ever had before him, his father preceded Richard Williams with promises of his son winning every tournament in sight and eventually becoming president of these United States. Woods' talent with golf clubs is fantastic as he conjures up more spectacular feats than David Copperfield. But he is beatable and he is raising the bar for the other players on the tour. He will not be president. He will, however, be compared to the greats that have played the game...Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Jones, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino and others. More importantly, his father has become a footnote, properly so.
Venus and Serena Williams lift the trophy after winning the final of the women's doubles at Wimbledon. Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT)
Richard Williams should sit back and bask. The family has come a long way from Compton, California. He had a lot to do with that. Well done. The girls are athletes. They are female athletes. They are Americans. They are supremely talented. Yet, we dilute that by adding a credit line to the victory stating that Venus is the first African American female singles titlist at Wimbledon since Althea Gibson won in 1958. Why is she not just a woman that won? If she were Italian would she be an Italian American, or Irish American or Polish or Puerto Rican? We hammer at it until it rearranges our priorities.
Venus displayed girlish flamboyance and grace. She was giddy after winning. She ran through about ten rows of Centre Court stands and hugged her very happy for her younger sister, Serena, and her father danced on the roof of NBC's broadcast booth with his now somewhat famous sign. It was not vintage Wimbledon. It was what we do, what the American Ryder Cup displayed when Justin Leonard nailed a 50-foot bomb that just about sealed a magnificent comeback.
Willams and his wife, Oracene, spent the last two decades for these precious moments. They moved from their home in California to Florida to train and prepare. Richard Williams directed this play from the opening curtain. His debut of signs at the usually pristine Wimbledon had the above and yet another saying "I need an ice-cold Coca-Cola." One more pleased everyone with the words "British fans are the best in the world." Hmmmm, U.S. Open excepted?"
Richard Williams is black. So are his wife...and his daughters. With justifiable pride. But, more importantly, they are people, Americans, marvelously gifted girls that have just begun a wonderful athletic adventure. It is because their father is black, African American if that suits him better for the moment, the press and everyone else is reluctant to criticize his stories (and, for the most part, they are just that), dances, signs, press gatherings and commentary. It is politically correct. This one time out, and for those others before last week, fine. But, for the future, it would be in the best interests of all concerned, especially the ladies Venus and Serena, if their dad just sat back, beamed and accepted quiet congratulations and applause.
Do you think he will change his approach and let the girls enjoy center stage from one end of the globe to the other? I'd like to say yes but I am more inclined to say, "Gimme a break!"