Venus Williams: Activist and Champion

venus

Venus Williams just defended her Wimbledon title and I couldn’t be happier. Last year Wimbledon finally decided to pay the men and women players equally. After over 130 years, this happened just last year! And it was due largely because of Venus.

She met with Wimbledon officials to reason with them. When that didn’t work she wrote a widely publicized editorial that easily toppled all their excuses. This led to British Prime Minister Blair and Parliament to vote to censure Wimbledon. Even UNESCO and the World Tennis Association pushed for sports gender equality in general and asked Venus to spearhead the movement.

Soon enough Venus’s tireless efforts provided enough public awareness and pressure to shame Wimbledon into modern civilization. A day later, the French Open, the only other major tournament with unequal pay, followed suit. I guess the French couldn’t stand the thought of being the only sexist tournament.

To read the eloquent editorial, click here.

And just to make it sweeter, Venus won Wimbledon last year, and became the first recipient of equal prize money. I guess you could argue it’s just millionaire women athletes getting a little more money. But the message of a men’s and women’s tournament being played side by side in the game’s most prestigious tournament, in England (self-styled bastion of high civilization), and the men being monetarily valued more, sent a powerful message that unequal treatment was acceptable at sport’s highest levels. (And that was a terribly structured sentence but you get the picture.)

I wish more powerful athletes would use their power, celebrity and influence to effect positive change. Do you think if Tiger Woods pressured Augusta National Golf Course, where the Masters is played, to accept female members and more than one African-American, they’d do that? Or if they didn’t stop discriminating, and he pressured the PGA to hold the Masters at a golf course that accepted standards that met basic human rights, they’d do that? Uh yeah. But Tiger doesn’t and what a shame.

Many believe that athletes like him and Michael Jordan avoid political issues because they don’t want to sully their marketing potential. This is nonsense. It would add so much more to their legacies, and create an aura of a true hero, a champion of justice. Who wouldn’t want to buy their shoe then? (Insert sarcasm here.)

That’s why I respect athletes like Venus all the more. In American sports history, I’d also add, Mohammed Ali, who protested the Vietnam War, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is politically active in many areas. So thank you Venus, for bringing a little more justice into the world, and also for your breathtaking athleticism.

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