Waiting for closure
The most difficult acts in the career arcs of elite athletes are first reaching that elevated plateau of performance, then remaining there for longer than the lifespan of a blowfly, and finally (it's usually later rather than sooner) figuring out when it's time to come down before they get pushed off.
But beyond all that lies a darker and mostly more unforeseen complication, and that is the whole notion of living out a personal life on the public stage. So many jocks appear to do it so well that it is easy to forget what a handshake with the devil the deal really is -- easy, that is, until reality intrudes.
So the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, still have no peace -- not publicly and certainly not privately. Over the past week, they watched first one defendant and then the other accused in the murder of their half-sister see his case essentially skid sideways in the Los Angeles court system, with two hung juries and two separate mistrials.
"It's really hard," Serena Williams said after the second mistrial was declared. "Obviously, we want a good ending to it. But we'll see."
Yetunde Price was 31 years old, the mother of three, a beauty-shop owner and personal assistant to her tennis-star sisters. She was shot to death more than a year ago, apparently an unintended victim of gunfire that erupted as she and her boyfriend drove past a Compton home that authorities described as a crack house populated by members of the Southside Crips gang.
In the time since, both Serena and Venus have spoken of their need to see an end to the story. The difference between them and most every other family member of most every other violent death in America last year is that their yearning is out there for the world to see. It is inscribed on their faces.
It colors the conversations about them, even adds unhappy context to the stories written about them. It leads to a kind of well-meaning but ultimately pointless noodling about whether the sisters' will to continue playing the sport has been compromised by a tragedy so personal it is essentially incomprehensible to anyone outside their family.
And so they process their grief, or what we see of it, in full view. And that is one small part of the huge, huge bargain that accompanies fame on this particular dot on the globe.
It is certainly unclear whether the Williamses ever will receive the closure they seek in the Yetunde Price murder. Last week's mistrial was declared after jurors pronounced themselves deadlocked in the case against Aaron Michael Hammer, who was alleged to have fired shots at the SUV in which Price was riding although his weapon did not kill Price. The jurors stood at 9 to 3 in favor of acquitting Hammer.
This week came the ruling in the case of Robert Edward Maxfield, who stood accused of grabbing and firing the assault weapon that ultimately killed Price with a stray bullet to the back of the head. In Maxfield's case, jurors reported that five wanted to convict, six favored acquittal and one was undecided.
In both cases, prosecutors have the option to re-try the defendants, but it is not yet known whether they plan to do so. Though juries can vary wildly according to their makeup, the numbers in each initial trial aren't especially encouraging of a conviction.
But guessing how things might go in the legal arena is pure speculation. What the Williams sisters are dealing with is not only real, it's right out there. It is in the open forum.
Before her death, Yetunde Price was a name unknown to most Americans. She lived a life almost entirely outside the public eye, with the occasional exception of an appearance with a famous sister, as when she accompanied Serena to the ESPY Awards in July of 2003 and was thanked by Serena as the tennis player stood before an L.A. audience that night at the podium. Serena called her eldest half-sister "Tunde," and it was a sweet but relatively minor moment on an evening of multiple thank-yous and shout-outs from all sorts of winners.
It was one of those see-and-be-seen nights, of which there are so many when you're famous and rich and making the rounds. You get out there and everybody knows you, and they all want to shake your hand and hear what you're thinking. And that goes double for the bad times, which is the other side of the coin.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com