Eight standout moments from ‘The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common’
Her body, her boldness — so many great moments, but we tried to narrow it down
On Sunday night, tennis star Serena Williams spoke honestly and openly with her longtime friend, Oscar and Grammy-winning artist Common, about her life on and off the court in The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common.
As the hourlong segment rolled, Williams didn’t hold back while explaining how the experiences throughout her ever-evolving career has shaped who she is — addressing topics ranging from her dominance on the court to critics who have body-shamed her. Williams also spoke at length about using her platform to speak out against injustices, and how she will continue to do more to uplift her communities.
Below are eight of the most notable moments in which Williams journeys through her career, life in America as a black woman, and why embracing her body, her boldness and her blackness are so important.
1. On being misunderstood in tennis:
“I feel like in the beginning of this journey — I don’t want to say my career because my career is just my life more than my career — but I think in the beginning of this journey, I was definitely misunderstood. You never saw anything like me and Venus in my field of work, in tennis. We may have said some things that people just couldn’t relate to, and they probably just thought we were talking about something different and took it the wrong way and made a negative connotation out of it when it’s not like that at all. We’re just trying to be us and trying to be the best that we could be.”
2. On being scrutinized and working through criticism:
“I guess, looking back, when I was in the moment, I didn’t really think about it because I’m so focused on my craft. I’m so focused at what I need to do to be the best I can be and then better that I don’t think about anything negative that anyone else is saying. At a very young age, I think I was 17, I stopped reading any press about me. I think because I was reading an article and they were pumping me up like being this great player and one to watch, and then I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want my head to get too big.’ I don’t want to be that person that thinks they’re too good for anyone else, and at the same time, I thought I also don’t want to look at all these negative articles and people talking so negative about me, about my body, about how I look. I didn’t want either side of the spectrum. I think that helped me avoid a lot of the scrutiny. I definitely feel like I was scrutinized because I was confident. I was black, and I was confident. I am black. I am confident. I would say I feel like I can be No. 1. ‘Oh no, you don’t say that.’ But why shouldn’t I say that? If I don’t think I’m gonna be the best, why do I play?”
3. On her blackness:
“A lot of black people, unfortunately, especially growing up, they are discouraged or [told] you don’t look good or your hair is not pretty or your skin’s too dark or your lips are too big — not anymore, but you know, back in the day. We were always told to love ourselves. Something that my dad always did with us was he always said you have to know your history. And, if you know your past, you can have a great future … There’s no other race, to me, that has such a tough history for hundreds and hundreds of years — only the strong survive, so we’re the strongest and the most mentally tough, and I’m really proud to wear this color every single day of my life.”
4. On remaining hopeful during a time filled with injustice and racism:
“I do feel like there’s hope. Not everyone is a bad person. The majority of people are good, it’s just some — it’s those few that poison. I also think that it’s so important for society to also not focus on the negative. If you sit around and only talk about negative stuff and negative things and what happened and who got shot, it almost puts that out there and you get that in return. We gotta put out a positive story.”
5. On dealing with body-shamers:
“I guess they couldn’t relate to me because I’m black, I’m strong, I’m tall, I’m powerful and I’m confident. And my arms might not look like the girl over there or my legs might not look like someone else’s, or my butt or my body or my anything … If you don’t like it, I don’t want you to like it. I’m not asking you to like it. I like it and I love me … They’re entitled to their opinion. They’re entitled to like what they want to like, who they want to like and how they want to like them. That’s their opinion. But I can’t let that influence me or bring me down in any way. There was a time I didn’t feel incredibly comfortable about my body because I felt like I was too strong. And then I had to take a second and think, ‘Well, who says I’m too strong?’ This body has enabled me to be the greatest player that I can be, and I’m not going to scrutinize that.”
6. On opening doors for other black female athletes:
“Everything I’ve done is because of the help of my sister. When I started, I never thought about, ‘I want to open up doors for black athletes and then to female athletes, and just growing the bigger picture to minority athletes.’ That wasn’t what I started out to do and I ended up on this path and people started looking up to me, and it was different because I’m just doing me … I didn’t even know that they would want to be influenced by me.
“I met Simone Manuel, in particular, and she said she was influenced by me. Not only her, just all athletes just across the board, they consider me great and I still can’t seem to swallow that pill. ‘Cause I’m just me … I’m fierce on the court, but I just never really changed who I am. So when they come up to me and see me and they get so excited, I’m like, ‘Really?’ Because I thought you were really awesome and you were really cool.”
7. On joining the conversation of being the greatest athlete ever:
“I think, if I were a man, I would’ve been in that conversation a long, long time ago. Like six, seven years ago. Eight years ago … I think being a woman is a whole new set of problems from a society that you have to deal with, as well— and being black. So it’s a lot to deal with. Especially lately, I’ve been able to really, really speak up for women’s rights, as well, because I think that gets lost in color or gets lost in cultures. We are doctors, we are lawyers, we are athletes, we are everything. We are CEOs. Women make up so much of this world.”
8. On challenges and facing fears:
“I don’t have fear. I have nerves. I’m not really fearful — not in my job. Now, I’m afraid of a lot of other things. I don’t like heights, I don’t like frogs, but in my job, I’m not really fearful. I think it’s very challenging sometimes to be in my position because I do influence a lot of people, a lot of people do look up to me and it’s so many times I have to take the higher road. It’s not always easy. That is very challenging, because sometimes when things are blatantly wrong and blatantly unfair and blatantly racist or sexist or just downright wrong, I just have to go and put on a brave smile and not let anyone know how I feel on the inside so they don’t get that satisfaction, even though inside I could be dying. That’s very challenging.”