Should Venus and Serena Williams' Parents Be in the Tennis Hall of Fame?

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2017

Oracene Price and Richard Williams watch at the 1998 U.S. Open.
Oracene Price and Richard Williams watch at the 1998 U.S. Open.Associated Press

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Don Shula and Dan Marino, Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan, Joe Torre and Derek Jeter. Those are among the greatest player-coach combinations in sports history. In all of those cases, the players and coaches are either in or headed for a Hall of Fame.

Venus and Serena Williams are destined for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Should their primary coaches, their parents, Richard Williams and Oracene Price, be headed to the Hall of Fame, too? 

It's hard to argue against the impact Richard and Oracene have had in their daughters' lives and on tennis. Without any formal training in the sport, the two developed, trained and coached two of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Serena and Venus have won a combined (singles, doubles and mixed doubles) 60 Grand Slam titles and eight Olympic gold medals. 

Plenty of parents have played a role in their child's tennis career. But what Richard and Oracene have accomplished goes far beyond parental influence. They created a masterplan to take their girls from Compton, California, to an international stage on which they would transform women's tennis. 

They did this in the face of scrutiny, doubt and sometimes downright hostility.

Richard's pronouncements of his daughters' pending dominance are now legendary. They foreshadowed what has become one of the greatest stories in sports history. But are these accomplishments Hall of Fame worthy? 

Anyone can nominate someone for the Hall of Fame, via an online application. However, nominees go through a committee that evaluates nominations to select those who get placed on ballots. 

Venus Williams puts her arm around her sister Serena before the start of their match at the 2017 Australian Open.
Venus Williams puts her arm around her sister Serena before the start of their match at the 2017 Australian Open.WILLIAM WEST/Getty Images

There's currently a Change.org petition to get the two inducted. 

Richard and Oracene would qualify under the "contributor" designation. The tennis Hall of Fame puts forth the following criteria to be considered for induction under contributor: "Exceptional contributions that have furthered the growth, reputation, and character of the sport, in categories such as administration, media, coaching, and officiating."

It's hard to view what Richard and Oracene accomplished as anything less than exceptional. But how do they measure up to those already in the Hall of Fame for contributions? 

Ion Tiriac, former player and coach of Boris Becker, was inducted as contributor. Although a solid pro, Tiriac would not have made it into the Hall of Fame on his playing credentials alone. It was his contributions as coach, mentor and tournament promoter that got him in. 

Robert Johnson, mentor and coach of several African American players, including Hall of Famers Arthur Ashe Jr. and Althea Gibson, was inducted as a contributor. Johnson's contributions covered decades of commitment to the development of young black players. 

The rest are a mixed bag of tournament officials and journalists, including Bud Collins. 

Although Richard and Oracene have devoted time to training and mentoring players besides their daughters, Serena and Venus have been their primary contribution. 

Is that enough? 

According to tennis analyst LZ Granderson, it should be. 

"So when the International Tennis Hall of Fame finally opens its doors to the Williams family, my hope is that they make room for three. No coach in the past 20 years has had as big of an impact on the game than Richard," wrote Granderson for ESPN's Undefeated.  

In 2013, the New York Times included Richard among great coaching legends like women's college basketball's Pat Summit and the NFL's Vince Lombardi.

In that article, Julie Bosman wrote: "He is self-taught in his chosen sport. He guided two athletes from obscurity to total domination. Who has had more sheer influence as a coach than Richard Williams, father of Serena and Venus?" 

Richard Williams coaches a young Serena.
Richard Williams coaches a young Serena.Paul Harris/Getty Images

If Richard and Oracene were not parents and just two tennis lovers who developed a plan to take two girls of limited means and coached and trained them into two of the best players in the history of the game, they would be slam dunks for induction. 

New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden once wrote: "[Richard] Williams is more of a training guru, a scout who recognizes talent. Price, as she did with her daughters, could prepare talented young women emotionally for the rigors of world-class tennis."

When his daughters were still small, Richard came up with a 78-page plan to develop them into champions. In March 1997, before Venus or Serena won a Grand Slam, Richard told New York Times magazine contributing writer Pat Jordan: "I don't know anyone who's done what Venus did. She should go right to the Hall of Fame. She's going to be there anyway, so why waste time?"

Being the parent of one's pupils shouldn't diminish the success born of their tutelage. What Richard and Oracene achieved is unique, unprecedented and exceptional, precisely the criteria reserved for Hall of Famers. 

Richard and Oracene deserve to be in the tennis Hall of Fame. 

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