- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

Richard Williams is the quintessential stage dad whose profile is redistributed with each Grand Slam tennis event, in this case Wimbledon.Williams is amusing from a distance, too funny to be taken seriously, even if he does take himself seriously. He is the crazy uncle, to which many families can relate, the Uncle Fester of tennis who has an assortment of tricks, although not the light-bulb-in-the-mouth one. He talks a good game instead, and if life were perfect, he would have his own talk show, a rite of passage of sorts for celebrities.

Williams jars the senses only if you take the bait and ignore the cries within his cries. The poor guy. He is not really hitting on much. He is the village idiot who, wink-wink, only pretends to be the village idiot because village idiots, like blondes, have more fun.

Of course, Williams is the victim of racism, one of the media's favorite rallying points, and the product of an unforgiving environment, which he can't let go out of convenience. This is America's guilt-induced free pass, to be used as much as necessary to garner silence.

Williams raised his daughters, Serena and Venus, on the mean streets of Compton, Calif., where, the cliche goes, they dodged bullets and he shooed away the gang members from his brood.

The gang members ran from the middle-aged figure because they thought he was crazy, and who cares if the anecdote lacks the ring of truth? It makes good copy. It does not hurt anyone. Broken bottles and bullets may break the bones, especially while you are trying to teach groundstrokes, but anecdotes never hurt anyone.

The Compton streets are awfully mean, as mean as they come, really, really mean, if you must know, and mean, by now, is the requisite word in the tale, essential to the wordsmith's cause, not unlike 20 dead bodies in the opening scene of a Sylvester Stallone flick. This is being creative, the vision thing,

part of the literary license, however trite and overdone.

Colorful recollections are a terrible thing to waste, embellishments a natural aspect of the process. Fox TV is doing a movie on Williams' life, including, perhaps, the foxhole he dug by the Compton tennis courts in response to the incoming and rat-a-tat-tat all around him.

The hole is obvious, and it is not a foxhole, because as hard as it has been for Williams, virtually next to impossible, he has built an impressive financial portfolio with his two tennis-playing daughters and earned a global platform to express whatever pops into his singularly conspiratorial mind. He reeks of myopia and a vapidness that is inevitably amusing.

Williams is a 59-year-old comic, unintended though this may be, who has come late to the filmmaking field. He wants to make a documentary, turning the camera on himself, and why not? It is a field led by Ken Burns, who discovered that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball and that war is hell. In the interest of fair play, the credit for the latter is shared by Steven Spielberg, who saved Private Ryan and rescued Stanley Kubrick's last idea, of which he didn't have many.

Williams also is an author of some repute, with three books merely waiting to be published. Who knows what lurks in those pages? This is America's loss, the nirvana of the tsk-tsk-tsk set.

What will he say next? He says one of his daughters is about to retire. Or maybe it's both of them. Who can keep track? The implication is that women's tennis will dissolve in their absence, and Alan Greenspan possibly will be motivated to cut interest rates even further.

Williams called Irina Spirlea "a big, ugly, tall, white turkey" at the U.S. Open in 1997, a mostly subjective insult, except for the white. It was one of his better ones, off the top, unprepared, brilliantly implemented. Big. Ugly. Tall. White. Turkey. He left Spirlea's country out of it. He's no ethnocentrist.

Williams indicted Indian Wells, Calif., this past March, hurling the racism charge, claiming he was hurt by the crowd's deployment of the N-word. The contentious exchange might have worked better if he had accused the tennis crowd of the M-word, with M standing for milquetoast, the manner of most tennis crowds, along with a dose of Stepfordness for good measure. It seems the streets of Indian Wells are mean, too, and unlike the gang members of Compton, the crowd apparently was not intimidated by Williams.

Fortunately, Williams only embraces the us-against-them mentality to a point, because the corporate Benjamins do trickle down to his wallet. Dining on principles is overrated, and besides, being a rebel with no cause is an old and lucrative practice. Even bad publicity is good, as long as Pavlov's dogs spell your name correctly.

Williams is a testament to both the great struggle and a culture infatuated with fame, money and power. At least he has not been asked to testify on Capitol Hill about the plight of the small farmer in America.

He has cultivated the outsider pose for both himself and his daughters, and the tennis world has been gracious enough to accept the challenge.

Williams is having a good time, and by God, given the context, a fabulous lifestyle bumping against a fabulous lack of clarity, we should be having a good time with him.

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