A lovely article by Dave Zirin.
Symbolically, the very audacity of Serena Williams—a black woman from Compton who has owned a country-club sport with style, flair, and the occasional leopard suit, is without comparison. She is “peak Tiger Woods” in skill, but cut with Ali’s transgressive style: the equivalent of the Champ telling the craggy, macho world of boxing that he was “so very pretty.” But not even Ali had to achieve in an atmosphere as inhospitable as Serena’s athletic setting. This is about the very particular intersectional oppression she has faced as a black woman.
Then there are her explicit politics. This is not the 1960s and there isn’t a mass movement to deify Serena Williams the way there was one to lift Ali, when the world was insistent upon his destruction. But that only makes the stands she has chosen to take all the more remarkable. In 2000, Serena Williams pulled out of the Family Circle Cup in South Carolina in solidarity with the NAACP’s call to boycott over the flying of the Confederate flag atop the state house. After her Wimbledon victory Saturday, she spoke about the recent “Mother Emmanuel” Church murders in Charleston, calling it a “tragedy yet again,” and an “unspeakably sad” moment that takes its “toll.” However, she pledged to “continue to have faith, continue to believe, continue to be positive, continue to help people to the best of [my] ability.”
She has been a voice for women’s pay equity in the sport, backing her sister Venus’s powerful push for economic gender justice in a sport that at one time paid women with bouquets of flowers. Most compellingly, as the Black Lives Matter movement has attempted to focus the nation on both police violence and the injustices that surround our system of mass incarceration, Serena has chosen to partner with the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that fights for prisoners’ rights amid the racism that pervades our criminal-justice system. In a move as audacious as it was affecting, she even tied her return to Indian Wells, a tournament she had boycotted after being showered with racist catcalls in 2001, to the raising of money for the organization. Using boxing as a platform for these kinds of politics amidst the 1960s was certainly legendary. But doing it in 2015 in the world of tennis? It’s simply above and beyond, like clearing a hurdle while wearing cement shoes