Serena Williams, a 23-time grand slam tennis champion, has endured both racism and sexism during her career on the tennis court.But when Ilie Nastase, a former French and U.S. Open champion, made a racist comment about her unborn child, Williams made it clear that she would not allow bigotry to affect the next generation of her family.
During the Fed Cup World Group II playoffs in Constanta, Romania, on Friday, a reporter asked Romanian No. 1 Simona Halep a question about Williams. Nastase, who is the Romania Fed Cup captain, interjected with his thoughts on the potential skin color of Williams’ unborn child.
“Let’s see what color it has,” British and Romanian reporters quoted him as saying. “Chocolate with milk”
Williams, 35, is engaged to Alexis Ohanian, 33, who is white. Ohanian isthe co-founder of Reddit. She announced April 19 on Snapchat that the two are expecting their first child.
Ironically, because of his verbal abuse against British players last weekend,Nastasewas provisionally suspended from all International Tennis Federation (ITF) events. He verbally assailed Great Britain team captain Anne Keothavong and British player Jo Konta, who was brought to tears.Nastase, 70, will have to wait at least two weeks to find out if the federation will take further action against him, according to Reuters. Heearned a reputation for controversial behavior during his playing days.
Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams. INSTAGRAM
In an Instagram post on Monday, Williams condemned Nastase’s comments against her child, and his comments against her peers. Williams also said she supports ITF’s decision to suspend him.
“It disappoints me to know we live in a society in which people like Ilie Nastase can make such racist comments towards myself and unborn child, and sexist comments against my peers,” the post says.
“I have said it once and I’ll say it again, this world has come so far but yet we have so much further to go. Yes, we have broken down so many barriers however there are a plethora more to go.
“This or anything else will not stop me from pouring love, light and positivity into everything that I do. I will continue to take a lead and stand up for what’s right.”
She also quoted a portion of the late poet Maya Angelou’s classic poem “Still I Rise”:
“I am not afraid unlike you.You see, I am no coward. ‘Does my sassiness upset you Why are you beset with gloom You may shoot me with your words . You may try to kill me with your hatefulness, but still like air, I rise.'”
Williams is currently ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association and has used her high profile to address sexism in sports.
Raymond Moore said women tennis pros “ride on the coattails of men.”
In 2016 Raymond Moore, CEO and tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open, resigned from his position following his sexist comments about women tennis players, including saying the athletes “should be down on their knees” to show gratitude to men.
“When I come back in my next life I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said during a press conference. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky.”
Williams responded firmly to Moore’s sexist comments.
“Obviously I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that,” Williams said. “I think Venus, myself, a number of players if I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement.”
She added, “I think there is a lot of women out there who are more are very exciting to watch. I think there are a lot of men who are exciting to watch. I think it definitely goes both ways. I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate.”
Over the years, Williams has also been a subject of debate regarding body image.
A New York Times article on tennis champion Serena Williams’ physique has stirred up controversy on social media. A long-time advocate for elite professional female athletes shares her perspective.
In 2015, The New York Times published an article the day before Williams’ Wimbledon win with the headline, “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition.”
Freelancer Ben Rothenberg described Williams as having “large biceps and a mold-breaking muscular frame.” He quotes her as saying, “I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it” but then highlights the testimonies of white female tennis players who don’t want to have her physique.
New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote, ” By Friday afternoon, many readers were aghast. They were calling the article (and even The Times itself) racist and sexist. They were deploring the article’s timing, which focused on body image just when Ms. Williams was triumphing at Wimbledon.”
In a SELF magazine article published in September, Williams said she wouldn’t change anything about her body.
“I love my body, and I would never change anything about it,” she said.
“I’m not asking you to like my body. I’m just asking you to let me be me. Because I’m going to influence a girl who does look like me, and I want her to feel good about herself.”