Your apology should be louder than your disrespect.
Twenty years ago, the name and reputation of the Indian Wells Open was forever tainted when fans booed Venus, Serena, and their father Richard Williams after Venus pulled out of a match against Serena due to an injury, causing Russia’s Elena Dementieva to accuse Richard Williams of rigging the tournament. Something about a stadium of white people booing the only three Black folks in attendance is hateful. Rewatching the clip 20 years later is infuriating.
In the latest episode of The Red Table Talk, Serena opened up about how she’s still bothered by what took place two decades ago in California, which is why the tournament should fix that by renaming it in her honor.
“Talk about post-traumatic stress and mental anxiety,” Williams said as she sat with Venus and Will Smith as their new movie about their father King Richard debuts on Friday. “I remember sitting in the bathroom thinking, ‘Wait, I’m not gonna go back. I just don’t think I should do this. What if they start booing again?’ It was really hard for me.”
Serena wound up winning the tournament — again — that year, but it led to the Williams family boycotting the event for 14 years until finally returning in 2015.
“I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing,” Williams wrote about the incident for Time Magazine in 2015. “In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently that angered many fans. Throughout my whole career, integrity has been everything to me. It is also everything and more to Venus. The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply. The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.”
Serena had a chance to win the tournament but wound up withdrawing in the semifinals due to injury. With Venus and Serena doing more press for a film that delves into how they were raised to dominate a white sport, it makes you remember just how historic that moment was.
“Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well. Together we have a chance to write a different ending,” Williams wrote as she was getting ready to return in 2015.
Serena held up her end of the bargain. Now it’s time for the tournament’s olive branch. And the only way to make this right is by naming the event after her.