The success of Serena Williams as witnessed at the Bank of the West Tennis Championship match got me thinking about a lot of things. How she came from Compton—a part of Los Angeles that people have heard of but never visited. Renown for crime, gangs, and drugs “the city of Compton” was made famous by 2Pac after the Williams sisters left town.
What a great athlete she is. I would not want to guard her inside the paint; she is physical and aggressive. I would fear seeing her on the other side of the net in volleyball. Her reflexes are super quick and she is sure to fire up her teammates. As a rower, I am confident she would tare up the erg; she could eat the proverbial rowing machine for lunch. She has one of the strongest and most consistent serves in the game. She hits winners from the baseline. No wonder she has been number one in the world 5 different times.
How she has changed the face of the fan base at tournaments in the United States. The Palo Alto crowd was exceedingly diverse and quite obviously there to support her. Although tennis is truly an international sport, in the US the vast majority of professionals are not African American (with a few exceptions). Perhaps Serena’s example and success will change that among black youth.
And most especially, I started to think about the success of two women from the same family. You can’t talk about Serena without mentioning her sister Venus. In fact her older sister has 43 career tennis titles whereas Serena now has 38. Venus has a three-match lead in the head-to-head series, 13–10 (including the last four in a row). They have played one another twelve times in Grand Slam singles tournaments and eleven times in other tournaments (including eleven finals). They are the only women during the open era to have played each other in four consecutive Grand Slam singles finals. Thinking about the Williams sisters I realized, It’s not sibling rivalries that fascinate me, but sibling success. I love to think of the many that have colored the pages of professional sports over the years—Peyton and Eli Manning, (football) Roberto and Sandy Alomar (baseball) The Bryan Brothers (men’s doubles), Tiki and Ronde Barber (football), Reggie, Cheryl and Darrell Miller, (basketball & baseball) John and Patrick McEnroe (should I go there?).
On May 20, 2011 Catholic San Francisco ran a story on the WBAL and CCS Section IV championship team from Sacred Heart in Atherton not because of their success but rather, there were three sets of brothers on the varsity team (including one set of twins plus their younger brother!). “During practice, the brothers’ familiarity with each other sharpened everyone’s skills. They were familiar with their counterpart’s style of play and move, which made it tough for them to score on the other.” So much for sibling rivalry!
I love to ask what was going on in the Manning household that cultivated the success for not one but two Superbowl MVPs. But after today, I started to think I may be asking the wrong question. Rather than “How can it be that from the same family came x, y and z….” Isn’t the question—why isn’t this happening more regularly? Siblings are drawing from the same gene pool, they have similar access to opportunities—lessons, facilities, programs, etc. and one common home environment to encourage and develop talent.
Considering the common forces in play, siblings who succeed in athletics should not be an anomaly. I believe the same can and should be true with regard to the spiritual life. Dickens wrote “Charity begins at home” and it’s true. A home that cultivates virtue, commits to a faith tradition, prays together and practices the faith together should be fertile ground for a rich and real relationship with God.
And we have plenty of examples to serve as role models to prove its possible. Among his apostles, Jesus chose two sets of brothers—Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus obviously came from a holy family—his grandparents Joachim and Anne and his parents Mary and Joseph and his cousin John are each regaled as saints. We have married saints such as the peasant farmer St. Isidore his wife St. Maria and sometime in the near future, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux—the Little Flower. Her mother and father Louis Martin and Marie Zelie Guerin were beatified by Benedict XVI in 2008.
Rather than emphasizing how dysfunctional our families are, I wish we could look to the holy ones for their example. There is no perfect family, but I do believe there is a spectrum of those who love and live differently.
And the same is true for athletes. I think it might be worth considering what these families have done to instill athletic success in one another. I have no doubt it's tough to manage sibling success over sibling rivalry, but for those parents who can and do--thank you!
Serena WinsWilliams Sisters
Therese of Lisieux's parents