How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport
The first time I heard Serena Williams speak was in a panel discussion on women’s basketball at the 2014 NCAA Women’s Championship. There she was, sitting next to Sheryl Swoopes, who by then had moved to Utah, and Serena said she hadn’t thought of herself as a “mother” for over 30 years. “I’ve tried to make excuses so many times,” she said. “I don’t even know what to call it anymore.”
Williams had experienced that same frustration a few years earlier when her older sister, Venus, was diagnosed with cancer and her parents, Alexis and Alexis, had to make the decision to pull Williams out of her senior tennis tournament to spend more than a year caring for her mom. After undergoing a course of treatments that included taking bone marrow, and more recently a liver transplant, Williams is now in her “golden years,” and her career is still rising. “The great thing about my age is that I’m still growing and learning and doing things in my life and being able to keep growing and progressing and finding out things,” she said to the roaring audience at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where the panel was held.
Williams’ story reminded me of another great female athlete who said the same thing: the mother of Muhammad Ali.
A lot of women go through similar pangs in their sport. As Serena said, “It’s kind of like having to grow up and be a woman so I can be the best woman I can be.” Her answer to that, in her case, was actually quite simple. It was the same answer the man at the same event, Muhammad Ali, offered to his critics in later years. “I’m a little tired of hearing about