Venus Tugs at Our Hearts

By Jane Voigt

July 3, 2017 — Wimbledon kicked off today with wins by defending Champion Sir Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Petra Kvitova plus a slew of other worthy competitors. Yet the day’s real drama happened inside the press room. Venus Williams was asked about her feelings regarding the car accident in which she was involved on June 9.

The post-match scene was awkward and a test for reporters who are charged with informing the public. 

Each journalist knew someone must raise the subject in earnest. Someone had to brush up against her, the Queen of Centre Court Wimbledon and international tennis, and hope things went okay. They probably knew, deep down, it couldn’t go well given the emotional nature of the accident, for which she is being sued in a wrongful death lawsuit. 

V. Williams v. Kerber459-3

A much happier Venus Williams during March's Miami Open. Photo credit Karla Kinne

So, at first, reporters suggested, dodging the words and emotions and probable outcome. 

As they hinted around, Venus said many things that sounded professional and Venus-like … “[I’m] grateful to be here and play. This is my 20th Wimbledon,” she told them. ”Today walking on court … I love it here. It’s always a feeling of coming back home.”

Then there was a question about her pink bra, which peek-a-booed through her shirt, “Why are they talking about bras in a press conference? Yeah, I don’t want to talk about undergarments. It’s weird to me.” 

Amen to that. Yet the levity created the necessary space for a direct question.

“[In] life you can’t prepare for everything,” she began, hesitating.

Silence filled the room.

“I have no idea what tomorrow will bring … that’s what I’ve learned.”

Silence again, as tears welled in her eyes, as she tried to stop the wave of emotion, as her head fell forward in embarrassment and sadness and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness … or so it probably seemed to those watching.

“[There are] no words to describe how devastating … I’m completely speechless … I’m just …”

Her voice trailed off as the moderator said, “Can we give her a minute, please?” 

The minute didn’t last, as Venus looked up to him and asked, as if a teen to a parent, “Do you think we should stop now?”

Thus ended another chapter in life for Venus Williams, the tennis player performing in her 75th major — more than any man or woman — at 37-years-old, with five Venus Rosewater Platters to her name, following her first-round match win against Belgium’s Elise Mertens, 7-7(7), 6-4.

Williams has suffered life’s harsh realities. In 2011, she retired at the U.S. Open and later announced she’d been diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome. The autoimmune disease attacks white blood cells and zaps those inflicted with aching joints, dry eyes, and overwhelming exhaustion. She struggled, but learned to cope and care for herself in a manner that allowed her to return to the game she loves.  

As a result she flourished once again on court, rising to the top ten. She’s seeded No. 10 at Wimbledon. 

She’s also survived her parents divorce, as many of us have, plus a sister's senseless murder in the neighborhood she was born into, Compton, to which many of us cannot relate. 

But this is different. She is being accused of causing an elderly man’s death, that she was at fault. How would we feel laced up in her Nike tennis shoes? 

To cringe at the suggestion is to be human. 

“I am devastated and heartbroken by this accident,” Williams wrote on her Facebook page. “My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Jerome Barson and I continue to keep them in my thoughts and prayers.”

Unlike many who would utter similar thoughts, but actually have no intention of following through or changing their behavior, Williams is probably praying in earnest. She was raised as a Jehovah Witness and has stood on that sacred ground after many a tournament win, telling crowds “I want to thank my god Jehovah” before delving into sport-talk stuff. 

So it follows and can be seen as a silver lining in this cluster of clouds hovering over Williams, that there was no evidence of driving under the influence. 

The entire incident — from accident up through her press conference — is a story that other people have encountered and experienced, although they aren’t in the spotlight of professional tennis. They aren’t Venus Williams. That’s why her story has taken on the aura of science fiction. An otherworldly feel due, in part, to her infamy.

In a scene from the science fiction movie Contact, Ellie Arroway, played by Jodi Foster, is a world renowned astrophysicist who travels to the star, Vega. She encounters what many critics say is an alien, but appears on screen as her father. She defies the vision, thinking that the image is actually her, using her memories to undermine her. Nonetheless, it delivers a potent message, that ‘in examining her memories’ it found that ‘humans feel so alone.’ It goes on to say that comfort is found in each other. Ellie returns to Earth, the incident having changed her perceptions and expanded her world view.  

Perhaps Venus will have to rely on the comfort of her family to transport her through this sad and difficult segment of her life. Maybe they can help her accept the challenges that lay ahead. That she is not an alien. That she was involved in an accident. That she will survive, although the pain of enlightenment and acceptance will hurt. 

The American has to persist and play her heart out at Wimbledon. Many may think she doesn’t belong on court, that she should leave the spotlight in reverence to the Barson family. No, that would be wrong. All those involved have to move forward, as uncomfortable as it is. And we witnessed just how uncomfortable her life is, during that press conference today.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013