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 Saturday, April 15
Williams' decision 'based on a deeper issue'
 Associated Press

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Serena Williams withdrew from the Family Circle Cup on Wednesday, the biggest sports name to back NAACP's boycott of South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag.

Williams, the sixth-ranked tennis player in the world, was the first to commit in January to the yearly clay court tournament at Sea Pines Racquet Club. But she rethought the decision last month when told of the flag controversy.

"My decision to not play in South Carolina was based on a much deeper issue and one that I feel strongly about," said Williams, the 18-year-old star who last September became the first black woman in more than 40 years to win a Grand Slam title when she won the U.S. Open.

The NAACP is leading an economic boycott of South Carolina until the flag is removed from the Statehouse. Since the boycott's Jan. 1 start, support from the sports world has grown steadily.

-- The New York Knicks pulled out of a pre-playoff draft camp in Charleston.

-- USA Track and Field condemned the flag before the women's Olympic marathon trials two months ago in Columbia and several runners wore ribbons in support of the boycott.

-- Penn State's baseball team wore red armbands in support of the NAACP's position during baseball games at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

-- The National Association of Basketball Coaches joined with the Black Coaches Association in calling for the NCAA to remove its men's basketball regional, scheduled for Greenville in 2002, if the flag still flaps atop the capitol dome.

-- The Atlantic Coast Conference has asked its schools to stay in North Carolina during next month's baseball championships in the border city of Fort Mill.

Flag supporters say it honors Southern heritage; opponents say it is a symbol of racism and slavery.

The state Senate began debate Wednesday on what to do with the flag, which was first flown in 1962. It can be removed only by state lawmakers.

Lisa Thomas, Family Cup tournament director, said she understands the predicament Williams faced.

"The tournament completely supports Serena's decision and we hope this issue is resolved soon," Thomas said.

This year would have marked Williams' Family Circle debut. She withdrew from last year's tournament with tendinitis in her right knee.

Bart McGuire, head of the Sanex WTA Tour, said he respects the views of players who feel "that their presence at an event would jeopardize their moral and ethical standards."

State tourism officials said this week they had to do some last-minute convincing to keep the sponsors of the LPGA Tour's Kathy Ireland event from withdrawing from the Murrells Inlet tournament in June.

Just last week, the football and basketball coaches from South Carolina -- Lou Holtz, Eddie Fogler, Tommy Bowden and Larry Shyatt -- took part in a march supporting the removal of the flag.


Stevenson chooses to play at Hilton Head