Serena Williams receives Jackie Robinson Sports Award at NAACP Image Awards
Though the book closed on her on-court career last summer at the US Open, Serena Williams is still receiving well-deserved plaudits for her impact both inside and outside of tennis. The future first-ballot International Tennis Hall of Famer was presented with the Jackie Robinson Sports Award at the 54th annual NAACP Image Awards on Saturday in Pasadena, Calif.
The Jackie Robinson Sports Award is presented by the NAACP to athlete for the combination of their on-field contributions as well as their efforts "in the pursuit of social justice, civil rights and community involvement," as per event organizers. First awarded in 1988 and revived in 2017, previous award recipients include basketball players Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, track and field Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph, and the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team.
The NCAACP Image Awards have been held since 1967, and gives honors in more than 40 categories.
Emmy Award-winning actress Kerry Washington presented her good friend Williams with the award, and NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson lauded Williams with praise for her historic career in advance of the ceremony.
“Serena Williams is the quintessential example of Black excellence,” he said. “From her record-breaking wins on the tennis court to her business acumen to her philanthropic endeavors, she has set the bar for athletes everywhere. We are proud to honor and celebrate her with this year’s Jackie Robinson Sports Award.”
In a speech on Saturday night from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Williams recognized the significance of winning an award name for baseball legend Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.
“So with this Jackie Robinson Sports Award, the NAACP is committed to uplifting athletes who actually break stereotypes and push boundaries and directions that move society forward by opening doors for generations and of the upcoming athletes to come,” she said. “Jackie Robinson’s impact goes far beyond sport. His legacy has empowered many African Americans across various industries to dream big, and beyond the boxes so many of us are put in, a key message the NAACP stands for in its work. And that’s what we are here to celebrate tonight.”
This wasn't the first time that Williams was honored by the NAACP with an award; in 2003, she and sister Venus Williams were named joint winners of the organization's President's Award, which is selected by the NAACP president "in recognition of special achievement and distinguished public service."
In a tennis career that snapped across four decades, Williams won an Open Era-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, as well as an Olympic gold medal in 2012, and was ranked No. 1 by the WTA for 319 weeks, including a record-tying 186 consecutive weeks. She and sister Venus Williams also partnered to win 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Olympic gold medals. In all, Williams won 73 WTA singles titles and 23 doubles titles in her more than 25-year professional career, which began in 1995 and ended last September in Flushing Meadows.
Off the court, Williams has been involved in a variety of business endeavors including a venture capitalist firm, Serena Ventures, a self-titled fashion brand, and was an executive producer on the Oscar-nominated film “King Richard,” a biopic based on her family.
“I would like to thank the NAACP, which continues to accelerate change within important areas such as healthcare, education, sports, the economy, and much more,” Williams said. “The tireless efforts of your organization are making a big difference in the lives of African Americans today and tomorrow.
“I’d also like to thank the Image Awards and the Hollywood Bureau for honoring me with the Jackie Robinson Award tonight. Still a little incredible for me. I am super humbled. Thank you. I’m incredibly humbled to be amongst the greatest names in today’s culture, celebrating those who promote equity through creative endeavors.”