There is nothing like a father’s love, especially a Black father. Quantify that statement times 1,000 when discussing the Black fathers of athletes on a professional track.
According to VeryWell Family, helicopter parents pay exceptionally close attention to their kids’ activities and schoolwork to not only protect them from pain and disappointment but to help them succeed.
— The Bulletin (@onthebulletin) November 15, 2021
The Hover Approach
By this definition, Richard Williams, father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, was the Airbus of Black fatherhood. Now receiving his cinematic roses via Will Smith, who plays the titular character in King Richard, he was an enigma to the tennis world during his time.
Think Earl Woods to Tiger Woods — the passion, guidance and audacity to guide young Black talent and countenance through a subtle cruel world of country clubs — and you can understand Richard Williams.
Richard Williams was the progenitor, launching Venus Williams’ professional career in 1994 and Serena’s in 1995. Tiger Woods would turn pro in 1996.
When There Is No Other Option
After quitting his job to teach his two daughters to become tennis stars full-time with no prior experience and, and, bucking convention, Williams became a trailblazer.
He was also ahead of his time as the polarizing Black father media prototype. Today’s Lavar Ball was ushered in by the 1990s-version Richard Williams. However, Ball championed his son’s athleticism and business acumen in a sport where the culture had already conformed to Blackness.
Tennis for Richard Williams was the exact opposite. Coming from Compton, California, with no lengthy lineage through the junior circuit, Williams knew something the world didn’t.
I Did It My Way
It was very unusual, so [it was] met with skepticism because nobody had really chosen that path before,” said ESPN tennis commentator Pam Shriver to The New York Post. “Because they weren’t hung up on results or rankings, they could just develop their game.”
More than understanding that he could create his unique reality for his family, Williams understood that to be Black and excellent is a shock to the American consciousness. He knew the pressure and gaze that came with it, especially in sports considered unconventional for African-Americans.
It laid a foundation for his daughters that has spanned over 20 years for each and countless world titles. Richard Williams pioneered the front-facing leadership role of the Black father for exceptional athletes, and those in the spotlight have been unapologetic ever since.
However, he was met with heavy criticism for his enthusiasm as he challenged tennis culture during his time. Williams’ unabashed support for his children included the display at tournaments of tongue-in-cheek signage with slogans like “It’s Venus’ Party And No One Was Invited.”
Serena Williams on sharing her father's story in #KingRichard: "We get to share with the world everything that my father means to me and our family and all that he's done for us." https://t.co/q7qMlfqvSX pic.twitter.com/6OloTJSNEs
— Variety (@Variety) November 15, 2021
Williams let his girls be themselves with braids and beads and finesse. They were excellent, and he was their biggest promoter. Richard Williams is the biggest test to the American experiment because he mocks every lie told about the Black American family.
Williams showcased Blackness in an ethereal and authentic way. It explained why Black fathers are essential without ever broaching the subject directly.
— LaWanda (@lawanda50) November 16, 2021
Expand your perspective and widen the net as the “King” receives his crown through the same media modalities that criticized him. Richard Williams is every Black father who cared too much and drove his daughters’ success in the face of the world’s misunderstanding.