Commentary: Serena Williams Is More Than “Female Athlete of the Year”

Serena Williams is more than "female athlete of the year."

Serena Williams is in the company of a few good Black women. Her capturing the title of “Female Athlete of the Year” just ensured that 2013 would end as a wonderful year to be a Black woman in the public spotlight.

The way Williams dominated women’s tennis is much like Beyoncé dominated the pop scene or envoy Susan Rice dominated the political scene. Did any other Black woman do more than they did?

We should never discount Oprah and her contribution to the women’s scene, and it’s also not possible to ignore what First Lady Michelle Obama did in 2013. What president’s wife is ever irrelevant?

Yet as great as ’13 was for these strong, beautiful Black women, their year pales when stacked next to what Williams did on the sports scene.

Now, I’m wary of mixing political achievements with sports (or pop culture or entertainment). I can hear the critics shout that a person ought not compare politics and sports. When we fuse the two, we can end up with another one of those inane reality series, something with the bizarre title of, oh, Loonies from the Boonies

But what Williams did in 2013 ought to be reality TV, because her year needs to be seen for anybody to believe it. Nobody runs through the grind of a tennis season and ends up with a 78-4 record and 11 titles plus two Grand Slam titles to place in her portfolio.

Forget about the record $12.4 million she earned on the circuit, because athletes as rich as Williams don’t play for the money alone. Just ask Kobe Bryant why he’s obsessed with coming back from an injury that should sideline him for the rest of the NBA season. Kobe intends to ignore the consequences; he plans to play because that’s what he does: play basketball – play it in hopes people will remember him as the greatest.

And Williams plays for that title as well. Her 17 Grand Slam titles aren’t the most among women, and at 32 – old for a tennis player, male or female – she might not have enough left to catch and pass Margaret Court Smith (24). But the game was different back when Smith, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf were piling up championships.

The grind of the game has taken its toll on Williams’ challengers. Lindsey Davenport, gone; Jennifer Capriati, gone; Justin Henine, gone; Amelie Mauresmo, gone; Kim Clijisters, gone; Venus Williams, all but gone.

None of them had the will to win that can drove an athlete or any public person to achieve what seems improbable. But here Serena Williams is, once again atop the summit of women’s tennis, fending off challengers — young and old — with the dogged determination never seen on the women’s circuit, and maybe even on the men’s circuit.

Her hate-to-lose mindset is what has made Serena Williams the best in 2013, and it will be that same trait that will keep her in people’s conversations as the greatest tennis player, if not the greatest female athlete ever.

But we’re willing to wait awhile to begin that debate. For now, we just applaud Williams for treating us to a season of tennis we’ll never forget. The sista from Compton is aging well.  

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

BET Sports News -- Get the latest news and information about African-Americans in sports including weekly recaps, celebrity news and photos of your favorite Black athletes. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh.

 (Photo: AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

Select the types of notification you would like to receive from us. Please note, you must choose at least one.

By clicking subscribe, I consent to receiving newsletters and other marketing emails. Newsletters are subject to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Users can unsubscribe at any time.