At only 27 years old, Serena and Venus Williams have overcome insurmountable odds to become two of the best athletes to ever play a sport.
Serena is currently number 1 in the world, she is the current US Open and Australian Open singles champion and has won 20 Grand Slam titles: ten in singles, eight in women's doubles, and two in mixed doubles. She also has won two Olympic gold medals in women's doubles. She is the most recent player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. Serena has won more career prize money than any other woman, in any sport.
Venus, formerly ranked number 1, is now ranked World No. 5. She has won the Wimbledon singles title the last two years and is the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open doubles champion. A 16 year participant on the Women's Tennis Association tour, Venus has won 56 titles, which includes 17 Grand Slam titles - seven in singles, eight in women's doubles, and two in mixed doubles. She has won more Olympic gold medals than any other tennis player (male or female) in history - one in singles and two in women's doubles.
These stats make them terrific athletes but it is their character that makes them terrific women. I have watched every match they've played for the last few years either on television or in person, so I remember the pain I felt for them both when they played Indian Wells back in 2001. You might remember that Venus was injured and had to withdraw from the semifinal match against Serena before the match. The crowd booed that night and booed Serena again when she played in the final. Boos that were peppered with clearly racist taunts from the overwhelmingly white crowd. Venus and Serena both vowed never to return and they haven't.
Now here comes the part that makes me love them so much: They have lived up to that promise, even as new WTA rules punish players who skip one of the tour’s so-called mandatory events; of which Indian Wells is one. They refuse to play this tournament just like artists refused to play "Sun City" during the days of apartheid in South Africa.
The decision to boycott this "mini-major" tournament causes the Williams sisters to sustain injury to their world rankings and lose money from the bonus pool — or face a two-week suspension and a $75,000 fine unless they opt to engage in promotional activities in support of the tournament within a 125-mile radius of the event. In the face of all that...they still say, "no, we will not give you the pleasure of making money off our God given talent after subjecting us to racist insults and treating us with disrespect."
I know that's right! It is always easy to say what you believe; but it takes great character to stand up for what you believe when the pressure to compromise your values is right there staring you in the face.
I've had the great privilege of watching them play tennis all over the world and to get to know them as women and friends and I can assure you what you've heard is absolutely correct. They are graceful under pressure, gracious in the face of defeat, patient when faced with ignorance, giving to those less fortunate and united at the hip in friendship and love for their family and each other.
Venus and Serena are TRIUMPHANT champions who excite and inspire us; not because of what they do as athletes to make a living...but because of who they are as women as they live their lives.