Back at just her second major event since childbirth, Serena Williams made headlines during the US Open for myriad reasons. Outside of the obvious was the reminder, as she said in Queens, that she and her family would not celebrate newly-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr.'s birthday. The same would hold true for Serena's own 37th birthday that came on September 26.
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Bearing Witness: The Williams sisters and Jehovah
Published Oct 08, 2018
The reason, as the GOAT has long shared on the mic after snaring Slam titles, is due to the Creator she calls "Jehovah God." As many followers of the family's decades-long saga in tennis know, Serena, sister Venus Williams, mother Oracene Price and other members of their kin are Jehovah's Witnesses, a faith shared by many Americans' neighbors, coworkers and also famous folks such as the late entertainer Prince.
In fact, the Pew Research Center posits that this particular set of beliefs is held by up to 2.5 million Americans, though Jehovah's Witnesses leaders speak to the statistic being closer to 1.3 million. Among them are the Williams sisters, who converted after their mother did so in the 1980s, more than 100 years after this homegrown faith was founded.
Yes, the Williams sisters have attended services at times, and yes, they have done the well-known door-to-door evangelical work. No, they do not celebrate most holidays, as well as birthdays—including the impending Halloween. Meanwhile Passover, well, passes the test, as it's the sole holiday that members of this faith community view as in accord with biblical teachings and traditions.
Per a recent story in People magazineabout the Williams sisters' beliefs, Serena has designs on getting more involved with the faith. She has shared over time that her beliefs have helped her recover emotionally and spiritually, in part, from health scares including pulmonary embolisms and the loss of her sister, Yetunde, due to gun violence in 2003.
Though Serena might become more active in the religion soon, husband Alexis Ohanian. Sr., did not take to the Jehovah's Witness faith upon marrying her.
Jehovah's Witnesses stay steadfastly (blissfully?) out of political matters. Serena and Venus have been asked frequently to opine on issues relevant to global or national policy and politics, and almost always, they have refrained from answering. (A timely outlier in those findings: Serena's remarks in support of Colin Kaepernick.)
Even so, Serena's repeatedly heated exchanges with chair umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open final, spoken—and notably not laced with profanity—while playing for a title won by Naomi Osaka, became a politics-laced spectacle. The scene caused many observers to hark back to 2009, when Serena berated a linesperson, peppering her threat with a few expletives, over a call on the match's penultimate point.
"What bothered me most was that I was representing my religion," Serena said later of that foot-fault kerfuffle, according to a Huffington Post story that rather comprehensively addressed her religion. "I just felt like anyone who knew I was a Witness was stumbled. And I really don’t want to stumble anybody ... [Church elders] had to have a talk with me."
It remains to be seen whether Serena will have it out with church leaders over this year's championship-match showing in New York, which by no means was anywhere near the scale of her '09 eruption. The world won't be able to find out anytime soon though, as she has ended her 2018 season and isn't set to resurface until the Hopman Cup.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
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