- Serena Williams is being attacked by an Australian newspaper.
- The American tennis player received three code violations during her loss to Naomi Osaka in last weekend’s US Open women’s final.
- These violations were criticized, perhaps fairly, by the Herald Sun newspaper.
- But the paper has continued a mean-spirited crusade against Williams. It lampooned her in a vulgar cartoon, and a headline in a conservative columnist’s article claimed she “is no feminist hero.”
- Here’s why they’re dead wrong.
Serena Williams is under attack.
A conservative columnist at the Herald Sun has accused her of going “nuclear” during last weekend’s US Open women’s final. The Herald Sun is the Australian newspaper that published a vulgar cartoon this week grossly exaggerating her weight, lips, and nose and depicting her as an angry baby. The paper has also attempted to discredit her character.
According to the headline of an Andrew Bolt column in the paper, Williams “is no feminist hero” – but he’s wrong.
Williams has been put under the microscope for smashing a racket and calling the chair umpire Carlos Ramos a “liar” and a “thief” for punishing her during her showdown against Naomi Osaka at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York. Ramos singled her out for receiving coaching. Ramos then docked her a point for throwing her racket on the ground and later a game for verbal abuse when she channeled John McEnroe.
The heat of elite competition can make even mild-mannered athletes lose their cool. Just ask Roger Federer, who argued with the match umpire, smacked his racket on the ground, and lost the 2018 Indian Wells Masters final earlier this year.
Williams is not the first to do so, and she will not be the last. This happens in sport, and it was fair for the Herald Sun, in its own way, to criticize her for that.
But the publication did not stop there. It has embarked on a mean-spirited crusade by republishing the cartoon – a drawing that has been rebuked for perpetuating racist tropes – on the front page of its Wednesday edition. And it wants to tell you that her behavior last weekend means she can no longer be considered a feminist hero, if she ever was.
Williams has suffered on-court meltdowns before, sure. She was fined $10,500 for “unsportsmanlike behavior” when she verbally attacked a lineswoman who called a foot fault during her 2009 US Open semifinal against Kim Clijsters. “I swear to God I’ll f—— take the ball and shove it down your f—— throat,” The Guardian quotes her as saying at the time.
But that was nine years ago. And an athlete, high on adrenaline, in the middle of a high-stakes, high-pressure competition can act in ways he or she otherwise would not. If it happens irregularly, it does not detract from what that person does off the court or the field. If that were the case, then Federer, also a racket smasher, would not be thought of so highly for his philanthropy – helping raise $40 million to educate approximately 1 million children in Africa.
Likewise, regardless of sporadic “unsportsmanlike behavior,” Williams remains a feminist hero – and I’ll tell you why.
Williams is a tutu-wearing badass
- Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
A 23-time Grand Slam champion, Williams won her first major at age 17 in 1999. Considering she is a two-time Grand Slam finalist in 2018 alone, it would not be a shock to watch her lift a 24th major next year – 20 years after lifting her first.
It is longevity rarely seen at the upper echelons of sport, and, because of it, she has become an inspiration to many – Osaka included, who grew up idolizing Williams and even wrote a report about her in third grade.
Williams has dominated tennis in a way few have dominated any sport, and she comes equipped with clear messages.
In August, the French Open made a bizarre decision to ban her iconic “Black Panther”-style catsuit, a neck-to-ankle skintight outfit that was designed to help prevent blood clots – something she has a history of, and an issue that proved problematic after the birth of her child when she developed clots in her lungs.
Williams said the catsuit had another advantage – it made her feel like a “warrior princess” from Wakanda, the fictional nation in the smash-hit Marvel film. The French Open thought differently, saying: “Serena’s outfit would no longer be accepted. You have to respect the game and the place.”
Her response? To wear a series of headline-grabbing tutus at the US Open.
Williams, known the world over for her fashion choices, is a competitive badass, and she has enjoyed rivalries with the five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis, the former world No. 1 player Jennifer Capriati, and the clay queen Justine Henin.
One athlete she would beat begrudgingly is her sister, Venus Williams.
Serena Williams dumped Venus Williams out of this year’s US Open, and said of her best friend: “When she loses, I feel like I do.”
- Getty Images
Of all the rivalries, Williams has always come out on top – against Hingis, Capriati, Henin, and yes, against Venus. There is little question that she is the best women’s tennis player of her generation and, very likely, of all time.
But her prowess perhaps transcends her sport.
The trailblazing former mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey bulldozed through many of her Strikeforce and UFC opponents during a thrilling and captivating run in the cage, the marathon icon Paula Radcliffe ruled long-distance and cross-country events for over a decade, and the Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn is mesmerizing on the slopes.
All three are extraordinary athletes, but Williams, with her powerful and accurate serves, her signature forehand, and her wildly competitive spirit, is in a class of her own.
Williams is a tutu-wearing, title-winning badass on the court – but she also uses her profile to raise awareness for key causes off it.
‘I like to stick up for women and women’s rights’
Like Federer, Williams has a passion for helping children have access to education, and her Serena Williams Foundation was crucial in the construction of two schools in Kenya. She also built a school in Uganda and another in Jamaica. Wearing a safety hat and goggles, and with a hammer in her hand, she literally helped build one of the schools herself.
According to Global Citizen, a website designed to help people learn about issues that trap people in extreme poverty, Williams’ school in Jamaica imposes “strict guidelines and rules to support gender equality in access to education.”
Of her schools across the world, Global Citizen adds: “Serena’s gender ratio rules work toward addressing a major problem around the world, particularly in developing countries where girls and women frequently bear the burden of household chores, like collecting water and caregiving responsibilities, which forces girls to leave school.”
Williams has used her profile to elevate causes elsewhere. In 2015, she wrote an article for Wired imploring Silicon Valley to employ “more women and people of different colors and nationalities in tech.” And in 2017 she wrote an article for Fortune helping to shine a light “on the long-neglected fact that the gender pay gap hits women of color the hardest.”
She also happens to be a mother – and a good one at that. Her Reddit-cofounder husband, Alexis Ohanian, even installed four giant billboards in California that say “Greatest Mother of All Time” to welcome Williams back to tennis after she gave birth.
Ohanian has called his marriage to Williams “a front-row seat to greatness,” saying: “I really thought I was like the hardest working person I knew. I thought tech was the hardest working industry … but then I started talking to her and then realized, very quickly, just how wrong I was.”
She returned to competitive tennis just six months after giving birth and has performed remarkably well in 2018. She has played in only eight tournaments this year but managed to reach the Wimbledon final in July and the US Open final in September – and her daughter only recently had her first birthday.
Considering Williams’ track record, it is no surprise that she told The Sunday Telegraph’s Stellar magazine last year that she liked “to stick up for women and women’s rights.”
Despite Williams’ US Open outburst, there’s no denying she’s an inspiration to young girls. Nike demonstrated this perfectly in its ad for the US Open, which shows her as a 9-year-old being coached by her father, Richard Williams, on a tennis court. He’s heard telling her to play “like you’re at the US Open” seconds before the film flicks to her on a US Open court, a six-time champion of the tournament still gunning for more success.
At 36, Williams makes time to show off her extraordinary athleticism on the court and to deliver her message of equality for women both on and off it – a message that even the Herald Sun cannot erase, try as it might.