Why I believe Serena Williams is the most successful and powerful athlete of all time:
I never really had the opportunity to understand the sport of tennis growing up. Actually, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was a much different time for young black bodies. Everybody wanted to be a basketball or football star.
Watching the Williams sisters dominate in a white sport was exhilarating. Where I grew up, we didn’t have access to many sports, and even fewer sports for women. Our high school budget could only support a few activities, so the investments in Young Black Bodies were basketball and (you know it) football. Secondary was the Great American Sport, baseball. There was no softball league. So in athletics I have watched Black bodies dominate in basketball. Boxing was also pretty big. Living in Atlantic City, Mike Tyson put us on the map.
It wasn’t just about budget, it’s about expectations and molding Black bodies for a particular sport. So I have to admit I wasn’t attentive to tennis until I heard about the Williams sisters. It became more than activism but excitement to watch them beat the whiteness out of tennis.
The Grand Slam Women’s Mixed Doubles: Venus. Australian Open ‘98 Doubles: Serena. Wimbledon ‘98, Fed Cup titles in ‘99… It was like a flip of the coin as to which sister would win the next title. It got to the point that if neither won, it was a gift or some type of freak occurrence. Ultimately, Serena was in the top spot and used this position to change people’s views on beauty, sport, athletics, and now Motherhood.
As a Black woman, Serena has created opportunities for other black women and men in this sport while changing minds about Black womanhood. Serena not only dominated the sport, but also changed (and still changes today) how not only Black women’s bodies are viewed in sport but women’s bodies in general.
After having her baby, Serena dropped in the rankings as a tennis player. This year’s play was thus even more important a point to prove. Don’t underestimate the power of women’s bodies. Don’t punish women for giving birth, as if womanhood in sport is a negative thing!
Serena rose in the charts to come in second place. This has folks thinking differently about when women athletes who take maternity leave and their capacity once they return.
Our Conversations Series has taken on issues about our bodies in fitness and sport. It has inspired me to honor and respect the power of women in sport and athletes who are also mothers. We have to dismantle our toxic ideals of womanhood and women’s bodies, and stop underestimating the power of women. We have to change punishment to celebration and make empowerment the expectation!