Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Williams sisters continue their boycott

When the WTA Sony Ericsson Tour instituted new rules in September 2008 it mandated players must play specific tournaments or face possible fines and suspensions. One of those tournaments is the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., which began March 9. Venus and Serena have boycotted the Indian Wells tournament the past seven years. This year makes it eight. They now face suspension from the upcoming Sony Ericsson Open beginning March 23.
This is a big deal because the Williams’ sisters put butts in the seats. If they play tennis fans will come.

Here’s the reason for their boycott. In 2001, Venus and Serena were set to square off in a semifinal at Indian Wells. Shortly before their duel, Venus pulled out with a knee injury. Some have theorized their father, Richard Williams, dictates who wins the matches when Venus and Serena play each other. Fans were highly upset. They felt something just wasn’t right.

The following day Serena played Kim Clijsters in the final. She was taunted and booed throughout the match. She was visibly shaken. Despite the crowd’s shenanigans Serena regained her composure and won the championship 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

As Venus and Richard Williams watched the match from the players’ box they were booed and subjected to racial slurs. Since the incident the Williams family hasn’t stepped foot onto the Indian Wells resort.

The WTA is flexing its muscles to force the Williams sisters play Indian Wells against their wishes with their new rules.

“I don’t play that tournament,” Serena said last September at the U.S. Open. “There’s been a lot of people in the past that are my race that have stood up for a lot more than not playing Indian Wells. That’s the least I can do.”

Venus added, “I think the WTA is in a good place, but all of us live in a free county. So we’re able to make a choice as to whether or not we want to play. That choice is for every player, not just Serena and me.”

At that time, WTA Chief Executive Larry Scott said he had spoken with the Williams sisters and they hadn’t wavered. “They’ve both said they’re not planning on playing Indian Wells. I’ve had several hours of conversation with Venus and Serena. I’m hopeful they’ll play. I would like to see them play.”

Richard Williams said last year in India that his daughters have never been fully accepted on tour because of racism. “Well, I’m black and I’m prejudiced, very prejudiced,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “People are prejudiced in tennis. I don’t think Venus or Serena was ever accepted by tennis. They never will be.”

The WTA is using legislation to control the Williams’ sisters to hopefully increase revenue at Indian Wells. This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Historically, legislation has been instrumental in controlling the revenue of African-Americans in society and sport. In 1908, the government created the Mann Act, which was originally designed to combat forced prostitution. Jack Johnson, who was the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world, was convicted under the Mann Act ostensibly for transporting a prostitute across state lines. It is believed, however, that Johnson was targeted because the woman, who was white, was his girlfriend. He spent a year and a day in prison. Johnson married white women, taunted his white opponents, and did it all with a smile. Ultimately he was forced into exile. When the dust settled Johnson lost his title and money.

A century ago African-Americans were not allowed to play major league baseball with whites. Based on a “gentlemen’s agreement” the baseball hierarchy kept baseball a “whites only” club. Only when the establishment saw an economic benefit was Jackie Robinson allowed to make history in 1947. Allowing Robinson to play wasn’t about morality, it was about money.
In 1967, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his championship and his ability to box for 42 months because he refused induction in the Vietnam War. The establishment amended the laws to facilitate bringing Ali to his knees. Ali was broke. But we all know he didn’t stay kneeled.

The Williams’ sister’s boycott is bigger than tennis. Because America has an African- American president, Oprah is a billionaire and African-Americans dominate professional sports from participation standpoint, doesn’t mean racism is fading.

The elite live in a utopian world that exempts them certain forms of mainstream exclusion. It makes many African-Americans feel good that Barack Obama resides in the White House and Tiger Woods is back playing golf. But their success doesn’t necessarily equate to social and economical benefits for the masses.

The media glorifies the elite African-Americans who’ve made it. It induces the mainstream to subconsciously relax and revel in their success that most won’t attain. This also induces people to embrace that America has advanced further than what it actually has. But the only way another’s social and economic success can be valuable if it married to activism.

Billie Jean King was known throughout her illustrious tennis career as champion for women’s rights. And yet she has stated that she wants the Williams sisters play the Indian Wells tournament. Supporting the sisters’ decision not to play at Indian Wells would align with her much decorated activism.

But here’s the catch. In February 2006, King became part owner of the Indian Wells tournament. Maybe that partly explains why she wants the Williams sisters to play. Even the best activism can diminish in the presence of the almighty dollar.

Bottom line: The Williams’s sisters shouldn’t play Indian Wells. Venus and Serena are the Tiger Woods of tennis. When they play the fans will come and vice versa. Besides, the WTA and Indian Wells don’t want the Williams’ sisters back because they are remorseful. They want them for their ability to put butts in the seats.


james gordon said...

Little wonder there are "NO comments" to your Point.You've said it all Serena and Venus feel so strongly about this issue that she is willing to relinquish an opportunity to remain #1 in the world to express it.
Prize money?? C'mon ,#120 is playing for prize money.

I know Dr. King and Arthur Ashe are smiling down on you young lady, and B. J. King "SHAME ON YOU!!!!"

Anonymous said...

I had a feeling when I saw how BJK demeanor during the U.S. Open, while being honored for the stadium named after her that she would be the "friend" to facilitate her own ambitious -but "fake" humility- means. When Venus gave her an honorable mention during a major tournament as the One who made it possible for them - Williams'- to be there (Tennis) I knew she wouldn't handle it with deep grace and humility. Her mind-set, in my opinion, is very passive-agressive-and self-serving. She doesn't really care what's truly beneficial for these women.

Anonymous said...

I am real proud of these women did take a stand on principle and have not waivered.

It is now the WTA that is belatedly coming up with new rules to arm-twist them into playing. Of course by not playing there, they were forgoing whatever money they would have won their in prizes. So Martir Rogers is making a hollow claim that Indian wells does not miss them.,149332

M. Ali said...

Another great article! I liked the comment, "But the only way another’s social and economic success can be valuable if it married to activism." Not everyone feels led to activism, and that is their right, but those who do are something else!