Wimbledon 2018, Serena Williams’s First as a Mother
“She took her first steps…I was training and missed it. I cried.”
So tweeted the greatest athlete in the world, in any sport, of any gender. Serena Williams has always used her extraordinary platform to advocate for equity, for equal pay for women in tennis and for women of color in any industry. But now, as she’s closing in on her eighth Wimbledon win, she’s also sharing the reality of life as a working parent.
It’s what she does.
Her story, one of two extraordinary tennis athlete-sisters to emerge from the “gritty streets” of Compton, California is a remarkable outlier specifically because society has made sure to ignore potential from certain zip codes. And Williams has never shied away from sharing scenes from her life, particularly when it can illuminate her experience at the intersections of her identity.
Here’s one example. Yetunde Price, the sister of Serena and Venus Williams, was the victim of a drive-by shooting near her home in Compton in 2003. It’s not a story you’d hear often in tennis circles, but the Williams sisters have become advocates for change. Their candor makes the case. “If a car backfired, we knew to hit the ground, because it sounded very similar to a gun…Our dad always had us get back up and practice, though,” Venus Williams said on a panel on community violence moderated by ESPN’s Jemele Hill last December. “I think what people don’t realize is how violence really affects not only your family, but your friends, your neighbors,” said Serena, breaking down in tears.
And like so many black women, Serena Williams nearly didn’t survive childbirth; in fact, she had to advocate to save her own life. True to form, she’s turned that experience into a platform. No stranger to revealing documentaries, her most recent series, HBO’s Being Serena, focuses in large part on her pregnancy, her terrifying birth complications and ultimately her dogged determination to master the extraordinary work/life challenge she has set out for herself.
She’s now equal parts GOAT and girlfriend: Her shout-out to working moms was rewarded with love, empathy, and surprisingly good advice — read the thread. It’s the intersectional dream: People may now be open to understanding the other parts of Serena’s experience because they feel connected to her parenting struggles.
Missing your daughter’s first steps is not the only problem a working mother of color faces. Advantage: Inclusion.
She continues to raise important questions. Like so many black people, she’s a permanent suspect. She was “frustrated” to learn, by way of a recent Deadspin article, that she was being drug-tested more frequently than other professional tennis players. “I actually thought the article was interesting, to be honest, because I never knew that I was tested so much more than everyone else,” Williams told reporters at a pre-Wimbledon news conference.
“Equality, that’s all I’ve been preaching. It’s all about equality,” she said.
Except, maybe, in her work.
On Saturday, she fielded a question from the Telegraph’s Jamie Johnson, who paraphrased player Madison Keys and asked the champion whether it was “difficult” to always be “the one to beat.” Everyone she plays has to stretch to play at her level. Does she ever get sick of that?
She then unapologetically claimed her own ability in a sixty-second master class in owning your own strength.
“Every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby, or surgery, or it doesn’t matter…these young ladies bring a game I’ve never seen before. It’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much. When I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me. That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”
Ellen McGirt writes Fortune’s raceAhead, a daily newsletter about race and culture.