Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Most Inspiring Female Athlete: Venus Williams

They say you can't be what you can't see. Another way of saying this might be "you can be what you can see." The first round of the 2019 Wimbledon tennis tournament revealed this truth and and much more as the 15-year-old Cori "Coco" Gauff beat Venus Williams in straight sets.
Gauff's victory makes her the youngest player to win a match at Wimbledon since 1991. Williams is the oldest female in the tourney; she will stay at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club to watch her sister Serena play singles and mixed doubles with Andy Murray. I was disappointed that Venus and Serena, who have won 14 doubles titles together will not play in the women's division. 

Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champion won four Grand Slam titles, including two at Wimbledon before Gauff was born. 

Gauff said "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her. She is so inspiring and I've always wanted to tell her that." Her chance came when they shook hands at the net after the match.  From the look on each of their faces, it's safe to say that feeling might be mutual.

If a female tennis player is to serve as a young athlete's inspiration, I'm not sure I can make a stronger argument for anyone in today's game other than Venus Williams. Teaching about her life in my Ethics, Morality and Justice course through the Nine for IX video "Venus Vs." and the resources available through ESPN W this year was a true highlight. My students, both male and female felt the same way. Here is one student's impressive summary of what he learned:

Throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Venus Williams and her sister Serena were among the most popular and dominant female tennis players in the world. Both won major tournaments, braced magazine covers, and received massive endorsement deals from companies such as Gatorade and Nike. However, Venus Williams’s biggest achievement did not come on the grounds of Wimbledon or the US Open. Instead, Venus’s biggest victory came in her battle against the wage gap, as Venus, along with help from the WTA and other female players, finally gained equal pay for the 2007 Wimbledon tournament.  
Equal pay, or the desire for it, is the central issue of this case of social justice. Our society has (and still does) struggle with equal pay between men and women, as men have consistently made more than 20% more than their female counterparts over decades in American society, and beyond.  
In this case, Williams saw that although the television packages and ticket sales grossed the same amount of money for both men and women, men received more prize money at Wimbledon. Other tennis tournaments such as the US and Australian Opens paid women the same amount of prize many stretching back decades, yet Wimbledon, The Masters of tennis (definitely not trying to appeal to you), refused to pay women the same prize money. 
Venus Williams’s story has also inspired me to watch WNBA basketball this summer while the Nationals sit deep below .500, as WNBA athletes also face a similar financial struggle to Venus. Venus’s story can be translated into the stories of women around the world who fail to see equal pay for the work they put in daily.
What an excellent reflection upon a social justice issue and the role that Venus Williams played in advancing the cause. For three young women, she was named the person they enjoyed learning about the most! Here is what they wrote:
My favorite person we studied this year was Venus Williams because of her inspiring efforts regarding women’s equality in sports. I thought Venus’s story was especially inspirational because, despite the racial discrimination she already had to face in her career, she continued to fight to make a voice for women’s tennis and demand the equal pay women deserve –– even if it meant sacrificing her reputation. I believe that all people have the responsibility to fight for their beliefs regarding gender equity, but only some people will have the courage to do so –– and Venus Williams is the perfect example of a leader who is willing to take action to achieve what is truly right.
The person I found most influential in understanding myself again this year was Venus Williams. The film Venus Versus film did not only tie into race and equality but tied into my favorite part of the year Jan Term. Through this class, I found how passionate I am about women's athletics and female athletes. Before this class, I knew what title IX was but that was it I didn't know any statistics, how unequal women are still treated. After watching Venus struggle it fueled my fire even further, her perseverance and persistence does not only make her a great athlete but an amazing person.  I find Venus as in inspiration as a face for the movement of women's sports equality. Venus has even gone as far as inspiring me to possibly pursue a further investigation into this cause and maybe one day even properly join the movement. ;)
My favorite person we studied this year was Venus Williams in our studies about sexuality and culture. Tennis has been a huge part of my family as nearly everyone on my mother’s side has played. I have grown up watching the William sisters for as long as I can remember, and I appreciate learning more in depth about their impact on prize money equality and on changing the face of tennis.  
I believe the Williams sisters share an important ideal of fighting for what you believe in. Throughout their lives, the Williams sisters overcame adversity and made great strides toward eliminating the prize money gap at Wimbledon. The Williams sisters also share the lesson of representation. Two strong black women dominating the typically white and proper country club sport, give inspiration and encouragement to many young aspiring athletes. I believe their story is important because, today the wage gap still exists, and their effort encourages all women despite race and socioeconomic backgrounds to take a stand and make efforts toward gender equality.
I have always said that Serena Williams is my favorite female athlete. However, since teaching about Venus Williams, I now think I do not have one, but two. I admire and respect the Williams sisters for different and overlapping reasons. While I love Serena's style of play, I value Venus' with a new eye. To see her congratulating Coco Gauff at the net was to witness sportsmanship at its best. Time and again, Venus Williams has offered that to fans with her game, her plight and her victories on and off the court. Women's tennis won, yesterday. Congratulations all around.

Photo Credits
Venus and Coco
Interview Photo

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