I enjoy reading about anything Venus has to say. She is such a wise individual. And IMO - all she needs to be is herself.
I love the way Venus described herself when she spoke about how Althea Gibson played. Venus is almost there, as it pertains to the smoothness and elegance she is and will bring to the sport of tennis.
"TELL IT LIKE IT IS - VENUS" "WAY TO GO - GIRLFRIEND"
August 28, 2002 Talk about it E-mail story Print
Williams Sisters Can Serve as Big Inspiration to Others
NEW YORK -- Venus Williams was uncomfortable with the questions about Althea Gibson.
"I've never actually met her," Williams said. "I've only seen a couple of plays of hers on video. She seemed very, very smooth and elegant as a player."
Williams was also uncomfortable addressing the idea that she and her sister, Serena, should be Pied Piper leaders of young African-American girls into a sport that has not always welcomed players of their race.
"I don't think the next Czechoslovakian player is vying to make sure that other Czechs are in the game," Venus said. "It's the same for me. Even though I'm African American, I'm living my life every day, basically as a person."
The subject of Gibson was brought up because Gibson, the first African American to win Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, was honored Tuesday night at the Open, a celebration of her recent 75th birthday. Gibson, who lives in New Jersey, is physically frail but mentally strong.
She watches every stroke of women's tournaments with interest, says her friend, Fran Gray, but does not feel physically capable of traveling to the tournament.
While Gibson was winning Grand Slam titles in the late 1950s, there was no influx of minority children into the sport.
"That's not a surprise," says Gray, the coordinator of the Althea Gibson Foundation. "We couldn't see Althea on television. We didn't see her highlights on sports shows.
"And there were no courts or rackets or balls in the inner cities. There were no coaches. There was no support."
While the inner cities aren't overflowing with tennis courts, they do exist. So do programs and coaching for kids of every race.
But there is no certainty that tennis will soon be a multi-racial game.
Venus made a good point. She and Serena took the same path as other tennis stars but it is not a path that is a blueprint for African Americans everywhere.
She and Serena became champions because their parents, Richard and Oracene, made a conscious decision to make their two youngest daughters into tennis stars. Richard single mindedly shepherded his girls into the sport because, he has said, there was big money to be made.
Just as Peter Graf gave Steffi a sawed-off racket, just as Karolj Seles made tennis games for young Monica, just as Gloria Connors changed her life so that Jimmy could be a star, Richard Williams has managed the careers of his children.
The video we saw of Gibson on Tuesday night was grainy and in black and white. It featured a tall, strong African American woman who stood head and shoulders above her opponents, who moved with a dancer's ease across a tennis court and who hit the ball with a fastballer's firepower.
Earlier Tuesday, Venus took 50 minutes to beat Mirjana Lucic, 6-0, 6-0. Williams is a tall, strong African American woman who stands head and shoulders above her opponents, who moves with a dancer's ease across a tennis court, who hits the ball with a fastballer's firepower.
Venus has won four Grand Slam titles and her sister three. They have been paid millions of dollars from clothing and shoe companies. They represent various companies. They have moved tennis into a new realm of athletic performance.
They are young and hip and cause a sensation with the clothes they wear, with the powerful confidence of their strokes, with their personalities, with their words.
Their drawing power does not attract other African American women to the game. Their drawing power attracts other young women.
Gibson never expected to be a racial trailblazer, her friend Gray says. Gibson hoped that by her success in sports she would be able to convey a message about education, to advertise that she, a high school dropout, earned a college degree.
Chanda Rubin, another African American female tennis player, said that if Gibson were playing today, "she would be rich. She'd be like Stan Smith. She would have a shoe named after her and she wouldn't have to work another day in her life."
"Althea was a pioneer," Rubin said. "The Williamses have followed in her footsteps as other black girls will follow in theirs. Kids need access, opportunity, discipline, desire, good coaching, good equipment. But it does start with a dream and that dream often starts by seeing someone who looks like you out there succeeding."
A dream will often remain a dream, though, unless the dreamer sees a legitimate way to fulfillment.
Lots of African American, Asian, Caucasian and Latino young men and women would love to be Tiger Woods.
But without an Earl Woods, a totally focused father, following in Tiger's footsteps simply won't happen.
Just because other girls and boys in Compton, where the Williams sisters started playing tennis, might want to become Venus and Serena, doesn't mean they will.
Not without a Richard and Oracene to push.
The way tennis is run in this country, as a sport of individuals who must find their own way to the tennis court, to the tennis lessons, to the junior tournaments, who must either have the money to do all this or a singular parent to force all this, Venus and Serena will be no more racial trailblazers than Althea Gibson was.
Which isn't a good thing or a bad thing. It's just the way it is.
Diane Pucin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org