Lest you needed a reminder, sexism comes up everywhere — even when you're one of the world's best athletes, crushed from having to withdraw from a competition. This recently happened to tennis great Serena Williams, whose response to a reporter's sexist question displays an incredible amount of grace in a situation where it can't have been easy to summon.
A reporter from Inside Tennis, Bill Simons, was interviewing Williams after her recent decision to pull out of the French Open because of an injury to her pectoral muscle, as ESPN reported. Simons posed a question that, he said, was a long time coming:
I have been waiting about 14 years to ask you this question. After the 2004 Wimbledon match with Maria, I had the opportunity to interview Donald Trump on his L.A. golf course, and he said that Maria [Sharapova]’s shoulders were incredibly alluring and then he came up with his incredible analysis: that you were intimidated by her supermodel good looks. My question is: Have you ever been intimidated by anyone on a tennis court, and what are you thoughts about that occurrence?
Just for some background, The Cut pointed out that many talk about Russian tennis player Sharapova as Williams' lifelong rival, despite the fact that Williams has won 19 of the 21 times that the two have met on the court.
Williams, though, in answering the question, didn't mention Sharapova — or, for that matter, any other athlete. Instead, she simply shut Simons down. She said:
I honestly don’t have any thoughts about that. I can’t say I have been intimated by anyone. That’s all. That’s it.
This sparked numerous responses, most notably from Simons and from Williams' husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Simons apologized for his "awkward ques" and had how it seemed to "attack Serena" in a tweet, which also defended his feminist credentials. "I'm so sorry," he added at the end. For what it's worth, Simons' Twitter avatar is a picture of himself with Serena herself.
Ohanian's response, on the other hand, was direct and to the point. "Waited 14 years... for this? Pro-top [sic]: wait at least another 14 more years before asking another question," he wrote, along with a retweet of part of the interview transcript.
Besides the sexist element of the question — insinuating that another player's looks might be intimidating to a professional athlete at the top of her game — it's odd that a reporter would be asking Serena Williams if she's been ever been intimidated at all. After all, the recent questions surrounding Williams in the media haven't just been whether she's the greatest female athlete of all time, as ESPN put up for debate. Going beyond that, numerous outlets have laid out their case for Serena Williams as the greatest athlete of all time, male or female.
For example, an article ran in The Guardian in September 2016 arguing that point, saying that "she’s overcome adversity to win all the major prizes in tennis, and been way ahead at the top of the game for two decades. What man can match her?" Nike also gave her that title in an ad around the same time, according to AdWeek. The discussion picked up again in the fall of 2017, when Williams won the Australian Open while pregnant and the Daily Beast and Vanity Fair, among others, joined in the chorus claiming that Williams is, indeed, the greatest athlete of all time.
The great athletes of the world don't spend time being intimidated by their opponents. Instead, they just play and win, like Williams has done for the more than 20 years that she's reigned supreme in tennis.