NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams has made it clear: It’s not really fair. A male athlete would never have to make the same choice.
But after a pioneering career that both transformed and transcended her sport, Williams, who turns 41 next month, has announced to the world that she will soon be stepping away from tennis to focus on having a second child and to make her daughter, Olympia, a big sister. . Her explanation in a lengthy Vogue essay resonated with women in sports and far beyond, many of whom could relate all too well to her words, “Something’s gotta give.” And the idea that, no, you really can’t have it all – at least not all at once.
Many noted that Williams’ accomplishments, which included winning a major while she was two months pregnant, made her seem superhuman. But, Sherie Randolph said, even ordinary women are expected to combine work and motherhood harmoniously.
“Society tricks women into thinking they can have it all — be the best practical mother and be on top of the field,” said Randolph, a history professor at Georgia Tech and founder of a black feminist think tank. who is working on a book about African American mothers.
“But that’s just not confirmed in reality for most women,” she said. “What ends up happening is that working mothers are simply exhausted and overworked trying to perform at the top level of two demanding jobs – motherhood and their profession.” As if to prove his point, Randolph’s 4-year-old son constantly interrupted her thoughts on Williams’ decision as she attempted to discuss it during a phone call.
Discussing how her daughter aspired to be a big sister, Williams noted that she didn’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete: “I have to be two-footed in tennis or two-footed.”
“Believe me,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion also wrote, “I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think that’s fair. If I was a guy , I wouldn’t write this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife did the physical labor to expand our family.”
“Maybe I would be more of a Tom Brady if I had this opportunity,” she added, referring to the 45-year-old superstar quarterback who recently retired, then reversed his decision 40 days later.
Many women, discussing Williams’ announcement, pondered their own agonizing choices in the name of “having it all.”
“Even as a woman sitting at a desk, whose body is untaxed by the work at hand, I felt this tear that separated me – to my career and to my family,” said Jo McKinney, 57 years, a New York Advertising Manager.
“Now, looking back, I wish every time I chose my family over my job…it didn’t label me as unambitious,” she said. “I had goosebumps reading Serena’s article because she said what many of us feel and are afraid to say: it’s not fair, and something has to give. “
Such dilemmas are exacerbated in sports, said Lisa Banks, a prominent Washington labor lawyer who specializes in gender and sports cases.
“Having everything is a subjective thing,” she said. “You can have it all, but can you have it at the same time and at the same level, if you go through pregnancies? No, you’re running out of time, you’re out of training. You’re bound to be at a disadvantage.”
The issue has been clearly illustrated in athletics. American sprinters Allyson Felix and Alysia Montano became mothers’ advocates when they parted ways with Nike over contract terms that reduced wages when they became pregnant.
Four-time Olympic champion sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross retired after the 2016 Olympics before starting a family with her husband, former NFL defensive back Aaron Ross.
“I always knew I didn’t want to start a family while I was still competing,” she said. “I think being an athlete is the most selfish role you can have because it’s always about you. Rest, recover, train. Everything is so hyper-focused on the athlete. And being a parent is just the opposite.
Of Williams’ decision, she said: “I don’t want to say it’s unfair, but it’s a hard reality and a hard truth that as elite female athletes we certainly have to. consider a lot of things that our male counterparts don’t. ”
Long-distance runner Kara Goucher, who also fought for pregnancy pay, said people were starting to recognize the problem and careers were lasting longer. But she added: “You see the dad at the Super Bowl holding his kids. The reason he’s able to do that…is because someone else is there to take care of his kids. It’s not like that for mothers.
Like Williams when she won the Australian Open in 2017, beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings was newly pregnant when she won a gold medal in London in 2012.
“I think at some point you have to make that choice,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s very clear that this clock is ticking. Usually being a mom wins out.
But Walsh Jennings expects Williams to continue building on his legacy. (Williams became a venture capitalist with her Serena Ventures and is a fashion designer, among other things.) “She’s earned the right to stop and breathe, and grow her family,” he said. she declared.
Tennis legend Chris Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, retired at 34 and started a family two years later. “The motherhood/tennis career topic is not what I’ve been through,” she said in an email message. “I wanted and chose to spend every second with my children. It was my choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone.
“As far as Serena goes, I think now is the right time,” Evert said. “She squeezed everything she could out of her game. … She transcended tennis and became a leader on many important cultural, social and gender issues. She has lived an extraordinary life and will undoubtedly continue to shatter the glass ceiling.
One thing is clear: the US Open, after which Williams has strongly hinted that she will retire, will be a huge draw. Ticket sales rose sharply on Tuesday, said Kirsten Corio, business director for the US Tennis Association.
A mother-of-two herself, Corio said of Williams’ announcement that “the realization is kind of overwhelming, that as a woman you can’t do both as an athlete at the top of your game. your art.”
“It’s a lot of emotions to process, both as a sports fan and working moms,” she said. “The only emotion I can sum up to, really, is just gratitude.”
Dearica Hamby also felt gratitude. Williams, said the WNBA player for the Las Vegas Aces, was “an example for many of us, especially mothers who are able to compete at such a high level.”
Still, Hamby, who like Williams has a daughter, Amaya, 5, said the tennis star’s call was difficult – and it’s a discussion she’s had a lot lately with coaches and players.
“You almost have to choose,” she said of motherhood and professional sports. “That’s the reality of the world we live in. I mean, are men going to start having children? That’s the harsh reality of the world.
AP writers Maryclaire Dale, Howard Fendrich, Eddie Pells and Willie Ramirez contributed to this report.
Jocelyne Noveck, Associated Press