Interesting Article on Venus from 2001
Why American Fans Reject Venus Williams
by R. A. Gooden
The day after Venus Williams won her second straight Wimbeldon title; Mitch Albom posed an interesting question on his CNBC televised radio talk show: Why isn't Venus Williams more popular?
Come on Mitch; that's a silly question just begging for a silly answer.
We all know the answer, but would rather keep it buried under meaningless excuses attributed to her father, Richard Williams, or allegations of throwing games versus her sister, Serena Williams. But the truth is her popularity is suspect in America because the 21-year-old chucked her copy of "How to Be an Accepted Black Athlete in America."
Williams was barely able to get through the part of the book about thanking the Lord for all your success and staying out of jail before growing tired of it midway through the third chapter. That's the chapter where black athletes are encouraged to be defenselessly humble in the presence of mainstream media.
If Venus read that chapter we would have to peel her out of America's loving embrace.
The media and fans would have surely designated her as tennis' version of Tiger Woods. Right? Instead, she has been cast into the Generation X's corner of the market, where arrogant pompous stars watch their image rot away.
Why? Some say because she is arrogant? That's funny, I never heard anyone place that stigma on Larry Bird after he walked into the lockerroom before a three-point contest and asked, "Who in here is ready to finish second." Bird wasn't arrogant, just confident. He was the prototypical working class vigilante set to slay high jumping flashy group of black players in his specialty - three-point shooting. Undersized and ill equipped like Charles Bronson, Bird handed his foes just what he promised, making it easy to except his arrogance.
It was easy to brush off his arrogance after winning but the same can't be afforded to Venus Williams following taking the U.S. Open, winning a gold medal and taking two straight platters in Wimbeldon.
If Venus could have continued her reading, she would have seen the second half of the third chapter on humility, which urges black athletes to be smaller than their opponents. It's tougher for white fans to root for you if you're stronger, faster and bigger than your petite foe. Except if you're Mark McGwire or Lindsey Davenport.
It's also tougher for play-by-play commentators and beat writers because they are forced to focus on your athletic abilities and bypass any semblance of intelligence. Venus's first few years on tour she was tagged as an incredibly gifted athletes with wonderful physical attributes and endless potential. Three years later, she adds a devastating drop shot and net game to her repertoire and exudes the composure once said to be lacking. Is she a smarter player now? No, she is just better. How did she get better? Not by getting smarter according to the talking heads. Now the drop shot, which she was once searching for to propel her into the realm of a smarter player, is now just credited to her athletic ability.
We all remember Bird starring in the league; he was the best because he was the smartest.
Jennifer Capriati's recent resurgence in the tennis world is linked to her renewed dedication to the game and her better understanding. She is a smart player. You can only be a smarter player if you are not as physically gifted as your opponent (check chapter four of "How to Be An Accepted Black Athlete.") Being the smaller player is tough for Venus since she is 6-foot 2-inches in a tennis world that features an average height of 5-7. For those wondering how this might apply to Tiger Woods and his popularity, he has not only read the book, he re-wrote the forward.
It also helps that he doesn't look like Shaq standing next to his peers.
Complaints have also surfaced that both Williams sisters have been stingy when it comes to shelling out compliments to opponents in victory or defeat. You know, the same way the "always humble" Michael Jordan was known to praise Isiah Thomas and Bill Lambeer in defeat or Patrick Ewing or Charles Oakley in victory. Not!
Someone called into the same Mitch Albom show and suggested that Venus should "ditch her dad," in order to enhance her image. Funny, no one told Jelena Dokic to ditch her pops after he berated concession stand workers about over-priced salmon at the U.S. Open last year.
No, instead the media separated Dokic from her father's actions. So whenever Dokic nailed an ace or couldn't get to a ball down the baseline, instead of instantly putting the camera on her father they focused on her. Capriati's dad has now become the peaceful shepherd leading his daughter to the promise land of women's tennis just a few years after being the poster parent for what is wrong with overly possessive adults meddling in their children's playing careers.
When Earl Woods compared his socially silent son to Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. he wasn't crazy, he was just avoided for a couple of weeks. Maybe Richard Williams shouldn't go to games. Chapter 5 of "How to Be An Accepted Black Athlete" expresses the importance of maintaining the tradition of only giving your mother the tickets to the game - even if you have a father.
Venus, there is still time for you to reclaim your image without adhering to the difficult ground rules in that wacky fictitious book. Just take the Allen Iverson route. Dislocate a shoulder, break a finger, bruise your hip and refuse not to sit out of your next Grand Slam event. Basically, jeopardize your career merely for the admiration of your countrymen. Don't forget to do this while playing people larger than yourself.
Your popularity would surely soar, Mitch would have to spend even more of his time talking about why titleless Anna Kournikova is so popular, and you wouldn't have to read that dumb book.
R.A. Gooden is a columnist for SportsFan Magazine and SportsFanMagazine.com.
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