The team’s workout had ended, and it was time for introductions. Joey Porter, meet Serena Williams. Jason Taylor, meet Venus Williams.
The NFL and the best of women’s tennis converged Tuesday when the Williamses paid a visit to the Dolphins’ complex as the latest celebrities to buy a small stake in the franchise. Their deal with owner Stephen Ross, first reported last week, was confirmed at a news conference overlooking the field.
Venus and Serena live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., about an hour’s drive from the Dolphins’ stadium.
“To have this opportunity is really where our heart is,” Venus said. “We’re South Florida girls. When we get off the road, this is where we come home to. When we come home to Dolphins games, it’s going to be exciting.”
Venus said she and Serena have been to “a few games.” Serena dated former NFL players LaVar Arrington and Keyshawn Johnson, but the sisters said the Dolphins have long been their favorite team.
“We’re just ‘Go Fins!’-type people,” Serena said.
“It’s great going to the games for us,” Venus said. “When we play tennis, you’re so focused you don’t really get to feel that atmosphere. When we go to a Dolphins game, we get to soak in the atmosphere and we realize, ‘Oh my God, we do this too.'”
The sisters are the first female African-Americans to hold an ownership stake in an NFL franchise, the Dolphins said. The league has no African-American majority owner.
“We’re really honored,” Serena said. “Venus and I in tennis have tried to do so much for the sport. We’re really excited to even have this opportunity.”
Ross, a New York real estate billionaire, has brought six celebrities into the fold since completing his purchase of the Dolphins from Wayne Huizenga in January. The first partnership was with singer Jimmy Buffett; musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan and Marc Anthony subsequently bought small shares of the team.
The Estefans are the first Cuban-Americans to hold an ownership stake in an NFL team, while Anthony is a New York native of Puerto Rican descent.
“We are thrilled to have Venus and Serena join the Dolphins as limited partners,” Ross said. “They are among the most admired athletes in the world and have become global ambassadors for the game of tennis. Their addition to our ownership group further reflects our commitment to connect with aggressively and embrace the great diversity that makes South Florida a multicultural gem.”
Making their first visit to the Dolphins’ complex, the sisters watched a little practice, checked out the weight room and chatted with several players. Their favorite is running back Ronnie Brown, a friend through mutual acquaintances.
Brown envisions the sisters broadening the NFL’s reach.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I hope they can draw a different crowd to the sport. Hopefully we get some of their fans to be Dolphins fans.”
The sisters posed for photographers holding team jerseys – No. 11 for Venus, No. 89 for Serena. EleVen is Venus’ clothing line; 8-9 is the birthdate of their half sister, Yetunde Price, who died in a 2003 shooting.
The Dolphins’ negotiations with the sisters were initiated by former U.S. Tennis Association CEO Arlen Kantarian, an adviser to Ross. He introduced the Williamses to Ross shortly after Serena beat Venus in the Wimbledon final, and the sisters needed time to embrace the offer to buy part of the team.
“One or two days after you win Wimbledon, you get hit with about 25 different opportunities,” Kantarian said. “Athletes are used to taking money in, not giving money out. This was a little bit different. But they were very excited.”
The sisters saw a marketing opportunity, Kantarian said, but also a chance to extend their reach in the community. They want to help with the growth of the Dolphins’ charity foundation.
They also say they’ll attend as many games as their schedules permit. Now that they’re on board, do the sisters have any suggestions for Ross?
“Don’t draft us,” Venus said.