For the past few days, the world has been speaking about tennis player Naomi Osaka and her decision to skip out on the interviews during the French Open. Then, when officials at the tournament learned that Osaka meant what she said, they fined her $15,000 for doing what she said she was going to do to protect her mental health.
Since then Osaka made the decision to withdraw from the tournament entirely.
Naturally, taking such a stand is unusual. But Venus and Serena Williams, the greatest the sport has ever seen, have made similar moves in the past to protect themselves as well.
After being the target of racial taunts and boos at the Indian Wells Masters in California, the sisters refused to play there for 14 years.
In her autobiography On the Line, Williams wrote about the incident.
“I looked up and all I could see was a sea of rich people—mostly older, mostly white—standing and booing lustily, like some kind of genteel lynch mob. I don’t mean to use such inflammatory language to describe the scene, but that’s really how it seemed from where I was down on the court. Like these people were gonna come looking for me after the match. … There was no mistaking that all of this was meant for me. I heard the word n*gger a couple times, and I knew. I couldn’t believe it. That’s just not something you hear in polite society on that stadium court … Just before the start of play, my dad and Venus started walking down the aisle to the players’ box by the side of the court, and everybody turned and started to point and boo at them … It was mostly just a chorus of boos, but I could still hear shouts of ‘N*gger!’ here and there. I even heard one angry voice telling us to go back to Compton. It was unbelievable … We refused to return to Indian Wells.”
Fast forward to yesterday. Venus Williams is being interviewed by the press and they ask her about Naomi’s decision to withdraw and how she personally handles the pressure that may come from the media.
“For me personally, how I deal with it is that I know every single person that asks me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will. So no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me. So that’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently.”
Baaayyyybeee. It’s the bravado for me. We love to see it.
Pressure from the media with probing, doubting questions is nothing new to the Williams sisters. There is a clip from when a 14-year-old Venus was a child and a reporter was attempting to sew doubt into her mind about her abilities as a tennis player.
Not only did Venus stand her ground against the man, her father, Richard Williams, intervened to let the reporter know he wasn’t going to wipe away the confidence he’d taken so long to build in his daughters.
If you haven’t seen the clip before, please watch. It’s a stellar example of protection, love and exemplary Black fatherhood.
The seeds Richard planted are still flourishing today. We love to see it.