Serena Williams has battled an unfair amount of criticism her entire career. She’s still fighting back.
In a new ad for Nike, Williams narrates a stirring montage of game-changing women in sports, including snowboarder Chloe Kim, WNBA star Candace Parker and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Williams has collected almost two dozen Grand Slam titles in 19 years. Her 23 championships are more than any male tennis player and second-most ever behind Margaret Court’s 24. On-court success aside, Williams’ high visibility through endorsements, appearances and speeches has made her one of the most influential athletes in the history of sports. Her implicit and explicit style has influenced generations of young men and women in areas aside from her play.
In recent years, Williams has used her platform more and more to be an agent of change for women in sports, particularly in the way female athletes are perceived in relation to men. She has pointed out in numerous interviews that for a man to complain to an official is seen as him being a strong teammate or “passionate,” whereas for her to argue with a referee is a “meltdown.”
Last year’s U.S. Open saw Williams lose the Final to Naomi Osaka, but the loss was overshadowed by Williams being penalized for criticizing the chair umpire. In the following days, an Australian newspaper ran the following cartoon:
Shame on racist Mark Knight the cartoonist for Melbourne’s Herald Sun. The cartoonist depicted Williams with grotesquely racist features & showed her stomping on her tennis racquet & spitting out a pacifier while the referee and opponent are depicted as calm, slender white people pic.twitter.com/HoUPpnacOO
— Stone Cold (@stonecold2050) September 10, 2018
The cartoon has been decried by activists as racist and sexist, saying Williams is depicted with typical dehumanizing features of Jim Crow caricatures. Despite the outcry, the newspaper and cartoonist were let off the hook just today by an Australian media watchdog, which acknowledged the backlash but argued the cartoon did not contain prejudice or “substantial offense.” (h/t Washington Post)
That’s why Williams is still working for change. In the ad, she closes her appraisal of the other women with a little self-dap, adding “winning 23 grand slams, having a baby and then coming back for more” to the list of accomplishments featured, ending the spot with: “So if they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do.”