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Even though tennis superstar Serena Williams has said in the past that "I don’t involve myself in politics," she declared on Tuesday that she "won't be silent" on the subject of police violence directed predominately against unarmed African-American men.
In an emotional Facebook post that referenced the controversial shooting death of Philando Castile in Minnesota at the hands of law enforcement, Williams wrote: "I am a total believer that not 'everyone' is bad it is just the ones that are ignorant, afraid, uneducated and insensitive that is affecting millions and millions of lives. Why did I have to think about this in 2016? Have we not gone through enough, opened so many doors, impacted billions of lives?"
After describing her fears for the safety of her teenage nephew and her own soul-searching about why she hasn't been outspoken herself, Williams quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, saying: "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."
As arguably the most successful and popular black female athlete in America today, Williams has a unique platform to articulate the angers and anxiety of a community that is often left behind to pick up the pieces when their husbands, brothers, boyfriends, fathers and friends are slain.
"More than 90 Americans are shot and killed every day and communities of color bear the brunt of this terrifying crisis, with black men 14 times more likely to be murdered with guns than white men," said Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis and the faith and outreach leader for Everytown for Gun Safety. "I'm grateful to Serena for speaking out against police violence. We all have a role to play to stop gun violence -- including fixing our lax gun laws and the guns culture that makes shootings more likely. There is so much more we can do."
This is also not the first time Serena Williams has dipped her toe in activist waters.
In July, following her triumphant victory at Wimbledon -- her record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title overall -- Williams raised a symbolic fist in the air, which was viewed as a tacit display of solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters still reeling from the deaths of Castile and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La.
“I feel anyone in my color in particular is of concern. I do have nephews that I’m thinking, ‘Do I have to call them and tell them, don’t go outside. If you get in your car, it might be the last time I see you?’” Williams told reporters at the time. “That is something that I think is of great concern because it will be devastating. They’re very good kids. I don’t think that the answer is to continue to shoot our young black men in the United States. It’s just unfortunate.
She also expressed remorse for the police officers gunned down that same month in Dallas. "Obviously violence is not the answer of solving it," she said. "The shooting in Dallas was very sad. No one deserves to lose their life, doesn’t matter what color they are, where they’re from. We’re all human.”
The previous fall, Williams wrote a candid piece for WIRED in which she offered encouragement to Black Lives Matter protesters ("Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you") and stated: “I’m a black woman, and I am in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people.”
Despite her celebrated performances on the court and successful career off it, the 35-year-old has been subjected to sexist and racially motivated hate and invective for her entire career. She also lost an elder half-sister, Yetunde Price, as a result of gun violence in 2003.
"Serena Williams isn't the first woman athlete of color to take this stand. Women of color across the WNBA have been outspoken on this issue for more than a month. However, Serena Williams adding her voice to the conversation is of greater significance because of her power and global influence," said All Sports Everything founder and editor Shana Renee Stephenson. "Tennis is more far reaching than the NFL, NBA, or WNBA. When the conversation of greatest athlete of all time is broached, Serena Williams is a lock to be named. Not as a woman, a tennis player, or black athlete -- but an athlete period."