- Photo by Getty/Tim Clayton
- Serena Williams is doubling down on her efforts to fight gender inequality.
- The 23-time Grand Slam champion is working with Secret Deodorant to commission a “Gender Inequality in Sports” and pledge $1 million to support equality programs.
- Williams said she was inspired by the USWNT – which is engaged in a public fight for equal pay – to “look at myself and say ‘Am I doing enough?'” to fight gender bias in sports.
- The 38-year-old also cited her two-year-old daughter, Olympia, as a source of motivation to reignite her efforts to level the playing field.
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For as long as many of us can remember, Serena Williams has been a champion on the court.
And now, nearly a quarter-century into her storied tennis career, the 23-time Grand Slam winner is doubling down on her commitment to being a champion off the court, too.
Inspired by her two-year-old daughter, Olympia, and the US Women’s National Team (USWNT), Williams has teamed up with Secret Deodorant to commission a study investigating gender bias across all level of sports. She and the brand have also pledged $1 million to support equality programs.
“It means a lot to me to even be a part of this with Secret and to use our voices and to try to figure out how we can help gender equality,” Williams said. “It only made sense that we would start something, or team up… to impact real change for women.”
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Williams has long been an outspoken advocate on behalf of herself and other women in sports. She’s been competing at the professional level since 1995 – when she was just 14 years old – so she knows the ins and outs of gender inequality and mistreatment.
Though she acknowledges that today’s female tennis stars – herself included – have benefitted immeasurably from the contributions of people like Billie Jean King, she says, “there’s still work to be done” in tennis and beyond.
“Do not think it’s not a lot, because there’s a lot to be done,” she said. “So we just have to keep going.”
No place is that more evident than on the soccer pitch. Stars like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd have very publicly drawn attention to the disparity in pay between the men’s and women’s national teams, even despite the latter’s more significant financial and hardware contributions to the federation. Before the 2019 World Cup, all 28 players of the USWNT’s roster filed a lawsuit against US Soccer.
“They have really been champions and have been using their voices in the biggest of ways. They inspire me,” Williams said of the USWNT. “Those women are – oh my gosh – I admire them so much, and I look up to them so much. They encourage me to want to continue to fight, and that’s what it’s all about.”
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“I have to look at myself and say ‘Am I doing enough? I always thought I did enough, but can I do more?’ and I felt like I could,” Williams added.
That’s part of the reason why she, like the USWNT, teamed up with Secret. In light of the suit and the team’s World Cup success, the brand has worked closely with the team on various initiatives and even contributed $529,000 to the USWNT Players’ Association to help close the pay gap.
And even though the USWNT’s very public fight for equal pay and treatment from the federation has been a major source of inspiration for the tennis star, Williams also has her eyes on the “many other” inequities that continue to plague women’s athletes at various levels.
“There’s so many other things – equal playing time on show courts or conditions of locker rooms or treatments or facilities,” Williams said. “There’s so many things; I could go on and on… It’s good for anyone – it doesn’t have to be me – to speak up and to take on this role because our voices need to be heard.”
Now in the twilight of her career, Williams recognizes that much of the work she’s doing is targeted at leaving the women’s sports landscape better than she first found it. And it’s not lost on her that her daughter could very well be part of the next generation of stars fighting these same battles.
“As a woman, she’s going to have to face issues that we hope she doesn’t have to face,” Williams said. “What better way to fight for something that is right when you know your seed is going to have to go through that?”
But before she passes the torch, Williams still has some work to do on the court. She’s still vying for that elusive 24th Grand Slam title, which would tie Margaret Court’s record and mark her first Grand Slam victory since becoming a mother.
Her next shot at doing so is at the French Open, an event she’s won three times during her career. The second Grand Slam of the year begins in late May and extends into the first week of June.
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