Tennis star Serena Williams and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner were honored at the 54th National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards in Pasadena, California on Feb. 25.
The NAACP Image Awards is an annual awards ceremony meant to highlight exceptional performers and artists in film, TV, music, theater and literature. Williams took home the Jackie Robinson Sports Award and Griner appeared on stage with her wife, Cherelle, following a detainment in Russia for possession of hash oil.
The Jackie Robinson Sports Award recognizes outstanding achievement in athletics alongside a commitment to social justice and community involvement. Williams, now retired, is considered one of the best female tennis athletes ever. Williams won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, breaking the record for most Grand Slams in Open Era tennis. She and her sister Venus also won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and three gold medals at the Olympics.
“I’m incredibly humbled to be amongst some of the greatest names in today’s culture, celebrating those who promote equity through creative endeavors,” Williams said in her speech. “It is really a privilege to be recognized alongside some of the sports’ greatest icons and most accomplished athletes.”
Williams thanked the NAACP for their work in Black communities and honored Jackie Robinson’s legacy as a Black athlete who broke barriers throughout his career.
“Serena Williams is the quintessential example of Black excellence,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said. “From her record-breaking wins on the tennis court to her business acumen and philanthropic endeavors, she has set the bar for athletes everywhere.”
Alongside sports, Williams owns S by Serena, an inclusive fashion brand, and a venture capital fund that manages over 60 companies. She is the author of the children’s book “The Adventures of Qai Qai” and the executive producer of the Academy Award-nominated biographical film “King Richard.” In December 2022, she launched Will Perform, a cruelty-free pain relief and muscle recovery brand.
Griner was not awarded but was recognized on stage with a standing ovation for overcoming adversity. Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony for possessing vape cartridges containing hash oil. Russian penal colonies isolate prisoners from the rest of society, subjecting them to cruel conditions, overcrowding and a harsh prison culture. Due to her imprisonment, Griner missed all of the 2022 WBNA season.
She was released from Russian custody after 10 months in December 2022 as part of a U.S.-Russia prisoner swap. Griner and her wife supported the activists and human rights organizations who fought hard to release Griner.
“It feels so good to be here, especially with my beautiful, amazing wife and with all of y’all here today,” Griner said. “I want to thank everyone. Let’s keep fighting to bring home every American still detained overseas.”
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and six-time WNBA All-Star. On Feb. 21, Phoenix Mercury announced that Griner was re-signed and will play for the team for the 2023 season. This will be her 10th season with Mercury.
“To know BG is to love and appreciate BG, and we can’t wait to show her that in person with thousands and thousands of her biggest supporters exactly three months from today at our Welcome Home Opener,” said Mercury President of Business Operations Vince Kozar.
Griner will return to the court on Sunday, May 21 against the Chicago Sky as part of Fry’s Food Stores Welcome Home Opener.
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