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On Venus Williams, Ageism, and the Burden of Being a Black Woman of Greatness

The last time Venus Williams was in the Wimbledon final was eight years ago when she faced, and lost to, her younger sister Serena. At 37 years old, the tennis champion is looking to win her sixth Wimbledon singles title and defy every critic who has said she didn’t have it in her anymore.

Williams made her debut at Wimbledon in 1997, the same year three of the players she powered through to get to this year’s final were born. She is still playing tennis and winning hard matches at an age when many of her peers have already left the sport and moved on to other ventures. That alone should be a testament to her stamina, athleticism and overall desire to be the best at a sport that wasn’t always welcoming to the little black girl from Compton, Calif.


Every article that has come out in the wake of her advancing has made references to her age, describing it as though she should already be peddling Geritol and Depends.

The funny thing is, no one questioned Kobe Bryant playing in the NBA for 2o years. He came into the league fresh out of high school and retired last year at nearly 38 years of age. When Michael Jordan retired, then came back, then retired and came back again, people applauded and talked about his athleticism and dedication to the game.


But for Venus, a black woman who had to break down boundaries in her sport, and even played a role in making sure women won equal prize money at Wimbledon in 2007, being the best of the best is not enough.


Never mind that she has won seven major singles titles and four Olympic gold medals. Never mind that her only real competition in the sport seems to be her younger sister. Never mind that even as she battles an autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, that causes chronic fatigue and muscle soreness, she continues to kick ass all over the court.

The problem is, when you are a black woman, good is never good enough.

We’ve witnessed that with her sister Serena, who has also had her athleticism downplayed and relegated to being good “for a woman.”

When you are a black woman and you are great at what you do, people silently pray for your downfall.


It may not even occur to them that they are doing this, but they do it nonetheless, and Venus is not an exception.

In early June, Williams was involved in a car accident near her home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that resulted in a man’s death. Initial reports blasted across the news blamed her for the accident, and those news reports filled the airwaves and the Internet loudly, on purpose and on repeat. It was all anyone could talk about.


When the news changed and video showed that Williams was in fact not at fault in the accident, that was a mere blip on the radar. Suddenly the accident wasn’t as important or newsworthy any longer.

They only love you when you are failing.

But Venus is black and awesome, and not just destined for greatness; she IS greatness. After not having been in a major singles final for eight years, as of Saturday’s Wimbledon final, she will have been in two in the last six months.



Williams lost the Australian Open earlier this year to, you guessed it, her younger sister Serena. She has beaten opponents more than 10 years her junior. The opponent she faces on Saturday is 14 years younger than her.

When the history of tennis is written, you will remember Venus Williams. You will remember her, and you will respect her.

Forget trying to count her out and write her off.


Venus Williams is a five-time Wimbledon champion, and she’s looking to add another notch to that belt.

Until you do right by Venus Williams, everything you even think about in tennis is going to crumble.

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