Serena Williams wins two ESPY awards, Sharapova and Azarenka leave bare-handed


Serena Williams was nominated in two categories at the 2013 ESPY awards and she won both – Best Female Athlete and Best Female Tennis Player. In the Best Tennis Player category she beat fellow WTA stars Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, while in the Best Female Athlete category she was better than Gabby Douglas (Olympic gymnastics), Missy Franklin (Olympic swimming) and Brittney Griner (NCAA Baylor Women’s Basketball).

Embed from Getty Images

The American is currently in Sweden, playing an International-level event at which she’s just cruised into the quarterfinals by beating Anna Tatishvili 6-2 6-3.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Ironically, the two WTA stars that won no ESPY awards were present at the Los Angeles red carpet event, both dressed elegantly – Sharapova in a perfect J. Mendel dress with shades of mint, blush, ivory and silver, while Azarenka wore a glamorous navy dress with pink pumps, on top of her ultimate accessory – her crazy boyfriend Redfoo.



    As a tennis player myself, there are many things I can say about her style of play, but I want to talk about what it’s like as a Black American to experience Serena Williams’ path in the tennis world.

    America, for all its goodness, has a terrible legacy in how it treated Black people. It is the biggest offender country in modern civilization where people owned other people and concurrently practiced a systematic dehumanization of people because of race. At one point in the southern part of America, one in three households owned slaves. One in three! Romans, for example, owned slaves, but what made slavery in the American experience different was that there was a combined effort to establish in law, science and culture the status of Black people as less than human beings. This is the history of the country where I was born and raised.

    Tennis began as a sport for the White gentry. Where I grew up, Blacks generally did not play tennis. For many decades in the tennis clubs you might only see a Black person only because they were employed to clean or to perform some role as a laborer.

    Over time, amazing people like Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe not only broke down barriers for Blacks in tennis, but they achieved excellent results. By the time the 1980’s arrived, there were high hopes for Blacks in tennis. To many, there was a perception that since Blacks could excel in so many sports such as basketball and track and field, it was only a matter of time before Blacks would make their mark in tennis.

    Many watched the careers of players such as Zina Garrison, Yanich Noah, Alexandra Stevenson and James Blake and by the time the 1980s had passed it became clear that while Blacks were present in tennis, the expected domination would not occur. I remember reading about Black professional basketball players who boasted that they would go dominate tennis AFTER they were done with basketball. That never happened.

    To the psyche of many Blacks, people who have experienced hatred and isolation from the highest levels of inclusion and success in America, there is a deep need to experience and identify with success and excellence. Black athletes who achieve help to affirm the dignity and self respect of Black people. On Monday, when one had to go to a degrading job (assuming there was a job), the joy of watching a Black athlete win a championship on the Saturday before was and is uplifting to many.

    This behavior is common to all people. All people seek affirmation of their dignity and goodness, whether as a nation, race, or other subgroup.

    Enter the Williams sisters.

    I watched these amazing women as they became the top players that they are today. They overcame racism and I can honestly say that every match along the way I cheered them and was proud to see their achievement. Most people forget, but their success was never certain or consistent. Serena and Venus often played with inconsistency and their matches were often disappointing. And, of course, Serena almost died.

    And fast forward to today.

    Now the media treats Serena as unbeatable. The mood is that Serena is here to stay as the dominant player in women’s tennis.

    How does that make me feel?

    It’s so complicated. Along the way, my favorite tennis player became a White Serbian woman named Jelena Jankovic. I also love Li Na. And Agnieska Radwanska.

    On the Internet, when I take a stand against Serena to support Jelena, for example how Serena cheated against Jelena in the Charleston WTA event, I experience such intense reaction from Blacks who support Serena. And I understand it.

    For me, Serena has done something most profound and I want you to listen carefully. She has shattered the barriers for Blacks in tennis so forcefully that I am able – as a Black man – to put aside my own reaction to the legacy of racism in tennis, that is, the absence of Black achievers; I am able to experience the sport as people regardless of race.

    Do you understand?

    She has established for every Black player to follow (including YOU Sloan) a seat at the head of the table, and people need not be surprised that it’s a Black person sitting there. When I say “she” I mean Serena AND Venus and their incredible family.

    For that I thank her. Deeply. So deeply.

    The Williams had to overcome so much to get there I am prepared to understand and put aside any character flaws or behaviors or outbursts. The fire that inspires those outbursts is arguably fueled by the collective will of people like me who want to see Black achievement against the odds. I don’t expect the soldiers who fight my wars to come away free of scars of any description.

    Tennis is a difficult sport to be in on the professional level. I wish that every one of these magical women have health, fun and love at every level.

    And yes, the stupid Espy.

    Go JJ! (you too Serena, just not against my beloved JJ)

  2. Petey, I love your story about the Williams family making way for black tennis players. It’s unbiased and objective, which is not so often seen, and it goes back to the roots of the story.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here