In a post-match press conference on Saturday, a reporter asked Williams for her response to comments from people such as tennis legend Billie Jean King that she should “stop being a celebrity for a year and stop fighting for equality, and just focus on the tennis.”
Williams swiftly said, “The day I stop fighting for equality...will be the day I’m in my grave.”
The comment the reporter referred to by King, an advocate for gender equality known for winning the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” competition, came back in June. King had discussed the importance of being fully committed to being an athlete to win championships, referencing Williams’ trouble with her knee and King’s own struggles as she aged past 40. But, then her advice took a sharp turn. "She's got business, a baby, she's trying to help gender equity, particularly for women of color… [It makes winning a Slam] much harder,” King said of Williams, according to Metro. King added that it’s “just a wish I have, it’s not fair to her, but I wish she would just make a commitment for the next year and a half to two years” to tennis.
Following Williams’ response on Saturday, King clarified her remarks further on Twitter. “I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality,” she wrote. “In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all.”
I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality. In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all.— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) July 13, 2019
Venus Williams championed her sister’s Wimbledon performance on Instagram. “I’m so proud of @serenawilliams. She has inspired millions, and most of all me,” she wrote.
Both Serena and Venus Williams have long been vocal advocates for equal pay for women tennis players and for minorities. In 2005, Venus Williams pushed Wimbledon and the French Open to offer equal pay to male and female players, reports USA Today, to success. A year and a half later, Wimbledon said it would offer men and women the same prize pay, and the French Open followed shortly after. Both sisters joined the advisory board of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, which fights for inclusive leadership, and in 2017, Serena Williams broke down why the gender pay gap hits Black women the hardest in an essay for Fortune.
“The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles,” she wrote in Fortune. “For every Black woman that rises through the ranks to a position of power, there are too many others who are still struggling.”