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March 17, 2009

When Life Assigns A Lesson, It Is Time To Teach

It is Women's History Month and it is important that we take time and pay tribute to the accomplishments of women. Take a moment and applaud, give thanks, and give a shout out to a woman you know in your life who is making a difference. Let us celebrate this month of March as we have never celebrated it before and teach young girls and women around the world the pride we share as women about women. Women's power and strength is of the heart, but the results of their ingenuity and talents are threaded throughout the fabric of history and chiseled in stone. One by one, the courageous, ordinary, openhearted, smart and creative women answered when they heard the call. They heard the call that something had to be done to make the world better in the spiritual, financial, emotional and psychological aspects of life. The mantras, "I didn't do it, it is God will or I have enough of my own problems" is a refrain that they choose to ignore. The women I am speaking of don't hide behind those cowardly and weak excuses. They know that if one person says "Yes" to the over whelming odds of "No", things can, and will, be changed. The women I speak of stand by the millions and have been changing the world since the beginning of time. Sojourner Truth who in 1851 decided to speak up for all women, Gloria Steinem, Jewish feminist and author forged an alliance with African American, Marcia Ann Gillespie and together with other investors bought Ms. A magazine that speaks to women of all races and nationalities. Maxine Waters, California representative whose tenure demonstrates what an affective legislator is and should be. Wilma Mankiller, a Native American tribal chief is relentless in advocating for her people. Fannie Lou Hammer, an advocate of civil rights through voter rights. The list is infinite and I am sure you can name many more women. The point is that one person can be the catalyst for change, and I believe women have been pivotal in that arena. I hold women to a higher standard than men, especially when I look at the chaos around the world.

So it was with exasperation and disappointment that I observed one of my favorite athletes who is black, famous, and wealthy, chose money over justice. Venus Williams is a master of tennis. Her championships, awards, accolades and successful endeavors outside of tennis are admirable. Venus constantly references Jehovah God when winning tournaments indicating that religion is a strong component in her life. So I assumed that race and religion were two areas she knew something about, especially in regards to the struggle and persecution in both arenas. I would think that Anti-Semitism would be non-negotiable wherever she encountered it as she travels the world. Many fans and I will remember what Venus did, or didn't do, on February 16, 2009. The little yellow ball she powers across the tennis court that has given her so much notoriety, is truly trivial compared to equality and justice. Venus forfeited the opportunity to call out the proponents of a situation that dwarfs tennis and would have endured and endeared her far longer than her tennis accolades. February 16, 2009 Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was refused a visa by the United Arab Emirates. That decision prevented Shahar from competing for the two (2) million dollar Barclay's Dubai Tennis Championship. The Dubai tournament is one of the nine most lucrative tournaments after the grand slams. The decision to deny Shahar entry happened after she was already in the draw. The reasoning was that by Shahar playing, the attacks in Gaza and public sentiment could have caused a boycott by the protestors and put Shahar in danger. Shahar served in her countries army and last year she was the first Israeli tennis player to ever play in the Gulf. That tournament was the $2.5 million Qatar Total Open in Doha. Shahar said, "If my playing here helps peace, I will be really happy. We are human. Whether we are Jewish, Muslim or Christian doesn't matter" so it is clear Shahar didn't let fear rule her life. Shahar, one woman, one voice stood up, spoke out and gave the world a choice to think about and consider how we treat one another. On the opposite side of this equation, Venus had boldly spoken out for equal pay for women in tennis. Her strong and steady stance was instrumental in insuring that women were compensated equally to the men. The International Tennis Federation and the Women's Tennis Association acquiesced so as not to lose their tennis royalty and respect of the fans. Show me the money won in the end. So it is no co-incidence that the larger monetary rewards and appearance fees for players from rich oil producing countries seduce players from around the world to attend the Dubai tournament. It was no surprise that the sponsors, tennis associations, or host of the Dubai tournament did nothing to aggressively boycott the Dubai tournament and made it crystal clear that equality, fairness and morality don't compare to the importance of money. It is the players that could have, and should have, walked off those courts and away from a tournament that chose Anti-Semitism. Why do I single out Venus for her particular stance and the shameful behavior of all the players? Venus had the audacity to speak up and not stand up. Venus said, "All the players support Shahar. We are all athletes, and we stand for tennis." I must ask Venus, and all tennis players of diverse ethnicity, what about standing up for what is right? What would have happened had she, a black woman, been denied entry into any tennis tournament because of her religion and/or race? Did she not remember, or even know of the stand that Arthur Ashe took against apartheid in South Africa in the 70's. Athletes have no responsibility to be role models or talking heads for the injustices in the world, but when they step up to the mike and utter weak, irrelevant rhetoric that only changes the zeros in their bank accounts, I, for one, would prefer they sit down be quiet. Venus had a chance to use her stature in the sport to elevate tennis, and speak to the double standards in the Middle East the greed of the tennis association and fans all over the world by saying NO to prejudice and Anti-Semitism. I am a subscriber to the Tennis Channel and applaud their decision not to televise the Dubai tournament. Their stand made a difference in important ways. The tennis channel management made a courageous decision that had to have monetary consequences. They chose to say no to hate, no to prejudice, and no to treating any player disrespectfully. I would like to believe that a woman had something to do with it. So Venus if you have an ear to hear, I will still watch you play tennis but regretfully what I will most remember is that you chose money and winning over equality and justice. At the end of the day, and looking back over history, you will realize that isn't how women have changed the world and the next time you walk up to the mike think before you speak. The world is listening.

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