Serena Williams

My bias is real. When it comes to tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, they have never been just athletes to me, but people. I have felt an imperative to defend them against detractors, know-nothings and dime-store bigots.

The reasons are obvious: they were once two Black teenagers from the public courts of Compton, treated with contempt — of both a race and class variety — by their sport. They not only survived but thrived.

Serena Williams and Common discuss race, gender and sport in an ESPN interview.

One of the best tennis players and athletes of all time, US star Serena Williams has been scrutinised so much for being a strong, Black woman that she herself began to doubt her own strength and body, the star told her long-time friend and rapper, Common, in a special ESPN interview last month.

“There was a time where I didn’t feel incredibly comfortable about my body because I felt like I was too strong,” Williams said during the one hour-long ESPN special, The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common.

Professional athletes provide a flicker of hope during these agonising days by speaking out against police violence. “Shut up and play” clearly doesn't fly when black bodies are falling at the hands of those whose job is to serve and protect. In fact, it's almost surprising now when football and basketball players — the two sports most dependent on black labour — do not speak out.
With Serena Williams' record-tying Grand Slam victory July 9, her claim to the best athlete of her generation — male or female — seems irrefutable. But with the celebrity tennis player's Compton-to-Wimbledon narrative, and emergence as an outspoken and defiant champion of the African American community in the US, is the superstar athlete the most iconic since the late Muhammad Ali?
Serena Williams has won 21 Grand Slam titles — the same number every other active women’s player has collected combined. There are many articles — terrific articles — defending Serena Williams against the racism and sexism that have long stalked her career. But we should be similarly aggressive in stating factually just who Serena is becoming before our very eyes.
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