This morning, I watched Serena Williams cruise into her ninth Wimbledon final, barely breaking a sweat in her elegant white tennis dress as she won her semifinal in 49 minutes. She stands just one win away from her 22nd Grand Slam championship, which would tie her for the most all-time and cement her status – which was already pretty well cemented, at least in my mind – as the greatest ever.
Another black woman got some air time on Thursday morning – or at least, her work did. Diamond Reynolds live-streamed the aftermath of a Minnesota police officer shooting her fiancé four times. Pulled over for a broken tail light, Philando Castile, 32, died with his 4-year-old daughter in the backseat of the car as Reynolds prayed on the sidewalk.
I didn’t watch the video, and I didn’t watch Alton Sterling die after being shot while lying on his belly in a Baton Rouge parking lot the day before. I’m not sure why. I watched Tamir Rice gunned down, and he was only 12. I watched Michael Brown get shot, and I watched Missouri burn. I heard Eric Garner say he couldn’t breathe.
I guess I’ve just had enough.
As I watched Serena glide across the grass at the All England Club - 41 years after Arthur Ashe became and remains the only black man to win Wimbledon - I wondered. I wondered if, were she not who she is, she might have to worry if she were pulled over for not using a turn signal, like Sandra Bland. I remembered James Blake slammed to the ground outside a New York hotel and wondered if, even being who she is, she might still, given the exact wrong circumstances.
I wondered about a society that celebrates the athletic prowess and achievements of people like Serena, and her sister Venus, and the NBA players whose free-agent decisions have dominated sports talk radio this week. I wondered about a society that clamors to hear what such people have to say when a microphone is in their faces, then demands that they shut the fuck up when their words are no longer convenient, or easy, or totally on topic.
Last night, I watched a young lady I know and greatly admire win the U.S. Olympic Trials in the hammer throw to earn her third Olympic trip. Amber Campbell is a beautiful spirit and person. But I wondered how her braids, her powerful arms, her sassy smile might play in another, less well-defined arena.
Stick to sports, you might think if you’re reading this blog, as athletes like LeBron James were told when they donned hoodies in protest of the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was not killed by police but by a neighborhood watchman/menace with delusions of importance.
In a word, no.
Jesse Owens did not stick to sports. Tommie Smith and John Carlos did not stick to sports. Muhammad Ali did not stick to sports. Venus Williams, playing a leading role in at last securing equal pay for women players at Wimbledon, did not stick to sports, like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova before her.
Sports is a stage. Voices carry from stages.
I, in no way, think this little voice crying in the wilderness has any comparable power. But if it has any, it must be projected.
I have a dear friend with whom I have a lot in common. We’re both journalists. We’re both from the South. We both love the Dodgers and the Gamecocks. We also have a few differences. Issac is smarter than me, and a better writer. He’s black, and I’m white. And he’s had to think about how to tell his teenage son to avoid being shot by the police.
Philando Castile’s mother tried to tell her son how not to be shot by the police, for all the good it did. If you have not had to do that, then your voice is just not as important as Issac’s, and hers, and all the other fathers and mothers who have, right now.
That’s also why, right now, black lives matter. Full stop. Because all lives can’t matter until they do. And when another cop shoots another black man every damn day, it’s fairly clear that they don’t.
We can’t laud our black athletes for their accomplishments while asking our black population to deny its experience. We can’t twist ourselves into blind knots insisting it’s not about race when there is no other explanation. It was about race when Dylan Roof opened fire in a Charleston church, and it was about race when he walked out of that church alive.
I hope Serena wins Wimbledon, and I hope Amber gets an Olympic medal. And I hope, in my lifetime and maybe even in the foreseeable future, that all people get a chance to realize their dreams, on whatever stage, without having a split-second judge, jury and executioner tally their worth, and find it lacking.