Serena Williams covers the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar, and wow, this whole thing is epic. First, Serena asked that the magazine not retouch her photos, so we see Serena look like herself and not some cartoon. The cover story is bare as well – instead of interviewing Serena, the magazine gave her the space to write an essay about sexism and racism and all the sh-t that went down at last year’s US Open. I think Serena probably wanted to get this out of the way before this year’s US Open, where she’ll obviously have a lot of emotions (good and bad). I feel sick to my stomach whenever I think about what went down in last year’s women’s final in New York, and it was clear that Serena was upset about it for hours, days, weeks and months afterwards. In this Bazaar essay, Serena talks about just how upset she was, and how she wrote an apology to Naomi Osaka, and how she went into therapy afterwards. You can read the full piece here. An excerpt:
… Fast-forward to September 2018. It’s the final of the US Open, and I’m competing to win my 24th Grand Slam against Naomi Osaka. It’s the beginning of the second set, and the umpire thinks he spots my coach signaling me from the stands. He issues a violation—a warning. I approach him and emphatically state the truth: that I wasn’t looking at my coach. “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose,” I said. I walk back to the court and lose the next point. I smash my racket in frustration; he issues another violation and gives a point to my opponent. I feel passionately compelled to stand up for myself. I call him a thief; I again demand an apology. I tell him he is penalizing me for being a woman. He responds by issuing a third violation and takes a game from me. In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title. I could not have been happier for her. As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love—one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning.
After the Open, I returned home to Florida. Every night, as I would try to go to sleep, unresolved questions ran through my mind in a never-ending loop: How can you take a game away from me in the final of a Grand Slam? Really, how can you take a game away from anyone at any stage of any tournament? I turn over, exhausted from lack of sleep, thoughts still spinning in my head. Why can’t I express my frustrations like everyone else? If I were a man, would I be in this situation? What makes me so different? Is it because I’m a woman? I stop myself to avoid getting worked up.
…So often, in situations similar to mine, when men fight back against the referees, they’re met with a smile or even a laugh from the umpire, as if they’re sharing an inside joke. I’m not asking to avoid being penalized. I am asking to be treated the same way as everyone else. Sadly, that’s simply not the world we currently live in.
Days passed, and I still couldn’t find peace. I started seeing a therapist. I was searching for answers, and although I felt like I was making progress, I still wasn’t ready to pick up a racket. Finally I realized that there was only one way for me to move forward. It was time for me to apologize to the person who deserved it the most. I started to type, slowly at first, then faster as if the words were flowing out of me.
“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court,I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”
When Naomi’s response came through, tears rolled down my face. “People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two,” she said graciously. “No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
It was in this moment that I realized the real reason the US Open was so hard for me to get over: It wasn’t because of the backlash I faced but rather because of what had happened to the young woman who deserved so much more in her special moment. I had felt that it was my fault and that I should have kept my mouth closed. But now, seeing her text putting everything in perspective, I realized she was right.
This incident—though excruciating for us to endure—exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day. We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate. We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly is just not something I’m okay with. It’s shameful that our society penalizes women just for being themselves.
The whole thing is just… profoundly sad. I watched that match live and as everything was unfolding, I felt genuine panic that no one was going to be able to hold it together – not Serena, not Naomi, not the full house on Arthur Ashe Stadium, most of whom were booing the umpire Carlos Ramos, who chose to make HIMSELF the center of attention, no matter what people say about it in retrospect. He chose to “punish” Serena for the crime of being upset, for saying he should apologize, for being “emotional.”
Also: Serena just won a barnburner of a quarterfinal WHEW.
"It’s not about quitting when someone presents a challenge; it’s about getting up when you are down, dusting yourself off and asking, 'Is that the best you got?'"
—@serenawilliams on why she’ll never regret using her voice to speak out against injustice: https://t.co/1bnucoZT7H pic.twitter.com/7Rg9SlJbsA
— Harper's Bazaar (@harpersbazaarus) July 9, 2019
Cover and photo courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar.
Watching that match spiral out of control was terrible—for both the competitors. I’m a huge Serena fan, and reading this I’m so happy to see how she reached out to Osaka and how Osaka answered her. Osaka was outplaying her that day and deserved so much better than what happened.
What Serena says here about her family changing tennis “not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning” is so powerful and important and true.
Oh I got chills reading that. I’m glad she wrote that to Naomi, and her response was perfect too.
And she looks amazing on the cover.
It’s clear that the therapy has not been very successful in helping her move on from the debacle at the Open.
She still sees herself as the victim and as long as she refuses to admit to her role in the scene she helped to cause, she wont heal from this or become a better person.
Epic indeed. Epic fail.
She contacted the other player and apologized. If you think she needed to do more, I’m not sure what you want from her. She doesn’t need to become a better person, and there is nothing epic happening where failure is concerned. I think you want too much from her and need to let it go.
Acknowledging racism and sexism is not the same as being a victim. These are sad, unfortunate and hurtful facts in our society. We have to point to them so that people see them for what they are.
What a garbage comment. But I’m not surprised. There’s always at least one of you on these threads about any strong successful black woman.
She literally did accept the role she had in the scene, lmao. I think it’s funny that you lack reading comprehension, but I guess some of us can’t do everything.
Serena suffers so much abuse from critics. I’m not surprised that she needed therapy to help process her emotions. The “strong black woman” narrative prevents a lot of women from getting the care they need in order to survive in this difficult world. Black women have feelings too.
Amazing response from Osaka. I felt horrible for both women. The ump inserted himself in the match and made it all about him. And I can’t help but notice the different reactions to the bad behavior on the men’s side at Wimbledon. No games taken away. Nominal fine. No multiple op-eds.
I’m glad she got clarity through her therapist and Osaka. A weaker person would have crumbled under the pressure and carried that into the new season. She hasn’t. Carry on, GOAT! And she looks amazing in these photos!
I love her. And she’s so right about it being because she’s a black woman. Look at some of the tantrums men have had. I can remember seeing Marat Safin shouting at an umpire and then climbing up the chair to carry on shouting. Not even a penalty point.
Reading this excerpt brought me too tears. Serena (and Venus) have endured so much abuse and disrespect, it always amazes me that they’ve come out so healthy and amazing.
I love that Serena reached out to Naomi and I’m so proud of Naomi for her response. There are countless young women of colour who are kicking ass because of Venus and Serena Williams and not just in tennis. I don’t think they will ever know how important they are and how much they mean to millions of people all over the world.
I think Serena Williams has been enormously gracious to a great deal of people as of late, most notably with Dominic Thiem after he straight up lied to her face about what he said, and she chose to shrug her shoulders and move on. We expect way too many people in this world to keep their emotions and disappointments bottled up because to be open is to be labeled a “sore loser.” But sometimes, in the moment, it just sucks to lose. It’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s just a sh-tty feeling, and it’s sad that we don’t give people like Serena Williams the space to be honest about that type of thing without making it seem like they have a bad attitude.
“Why can’t I express my frustrations like everyone else?” Yup. I feel her here. I ask myself this question every day. It always feels like I deal with my emotions so much more than other people, but I think I’m learning the truth, which is that everyone feels it deeply. Some people are just better at masking it in the moment than others, and while that’s a valuable skill, we have to confront the truth about what we feel within ourselves at a certain point as well.
I didn’t read this article I just wanted to come on here and say that Serena Williams is a beautiful woman, an impeccable athlete, and a hero and inspiration for women. #GOAT