Serena Williams pens open letter to young women challenging inequality in sports

Just call her King Serena. The tennis star has rightfully earned her spot on the throne as one of the world’s greatest athletes of all time. But she knows that even at her level there are still challenges she faces being both a woman and black. For the December issue of Porter magazine, Serena Williams penned an inspiring open letter to young female athletes, addressing the prevalent sexism in sports they’ll inevitably face.

For starters, there’s that pesky “greatest female athlete” nod instead of simply “greatest athlete.” New Yorker writer Ian Crouch made the case in 2014 that she was America’s greatest athlete, while Nike named her the “greatest athlete ever” in a new ad this year. Facts are just facts. There are very few athletes — male or female — who will go down in history with the number of Ws she has earned.

“When I was growing up, I had a dream. I’m sure you did, too,” Williams writes. “My dream wasn’t like that of an average kid, my dream was to be the best tennis player in the world. Not the best ‘female’ tennis player in the world.”

Williams also gives props to her family for being supportive of her dream, a privilege not everyone has. It’s not a disservice to her hard work to say her father’s coaching was the catalyst for her success. She writes:

“My fight began when I was three and I haven’t taken a break since.

But as we know, too often women are not supported enough or are discouraged from choosing their path. I hope together we can change that. For me, it was a question of resilience. What others marked as flaws or disadvantages about myself – my race, my gender – I embraced as fuel for my success. I never let anything or anyone define me or my potential. I controlled my future.

So when the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts. I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work. Nor would you.”

In every single sport, female athletes are paid less than their male counterparts. Female athletes also aren’t offered as many endorsements as male athletes because sexism doesn’t discriminate, even for the rich and famous. This year marked the first year Williams topped Forbe’s world’s highest earning female athlete list. Sharapova held the spot for 11 years despite Williams being the better player. We can all guess why that is (hello, racism), but Williams never bowed her head, never stopped beating her peers, never stopped winning.

She writes:

“As we know, women have to break down many barriers on the road to success. One of those barriers is the way we are constantly reminded we are not men, as if it is a flaw. People call me one of the ‘world’s greatest female athletes’. Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.”

She ends the letter with words of encouragement for young women: keep dreaming. To fight for their dreams with steadfast resilience. Because that’s what it’s going to take to achieve anything in life if you’re a woman and/or black. Her letter may have been for the younger athletes coming up, but I’m inspired now too. This woman has been working non-stop since she was 3 years old. And that’s the kind of dedication it takes to achieve greatness. All while kicking sexism’s ass in the process.