Serena Williams is arguably the greatest athlete, male or female, of all time. (Just ask want-to-be US sports czar Barack Obama.) She’s overcome sexism, racism and ageism so explicit, you’d think she was playing in the pre-Open Era. Williams is a philanthropist; she’s also the first athlete to be named one of Forbes’s richest self-made women. And at each chance, she’s served her foes heaping portions of bitter crow. Here comes the hard part: motherhood.
“My goals have evolved since having my daughter, Alexis,” Williams says. “Now it’s about making her proud, showing her the strength of women, and inspiring her to become the best person she can be.”
Yes, that daughter—the one that rode shotgun inside Williams’s belly on her way to a record seventh Australian Open. After the Women’s Tennis Association penalized Williams for going on maternity leave (dropped her from world number 1 to 453rd), she once again used the disrespect to fuel her focus. Parents are willing to take on the world for their children, an instinct only exploded in Serena thanks to her father Richard, the self-taught Compton, California tennis coach that trained his daughters to breathe excellence.
Williams is quick to remind that her status is the product of an unmatched work ethic, but also the kindness (and push) of others. So, she’s become a human multiplier effect. Among her many philanthropic titles, Williams is a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, just doing God’s work in Africa setting up things like schools and vaccine clinics. “Being a champion means helping others,” she says. “A champion’s success is lacklustre if it starts and ends with just them.”
There’s an apt metaphor here. Charity aside, Africa is considered the next Asia, a sleeping giant rich with talent and resources, on the margins of economic dominance and prosperity. It’s just been beaten and doubted along the way. No doubt Williams sees her own story in the potential of the underserved—the ability to spit adversity in the face and scale positive change as an extrapolation of individual triumph. That’s why she started a venture-capital firm that backs diverse, socially-progressive companies; that’s why she strives to be a role model for Alexis, because one day, her daughter can be a role model for millions of other Alexises.
We’re living the golden age of sports entrepreneurship, too. Started by mogul-activists like LeBron James, the player empowerment movement has seen countless athletes use their platforms as forms of expression (as well as financial security in the face precarious employment). Williams’s latest collaboration is with lifestyle-travel brand Away: a kid’s carry-on, pet carrier, convertible backpack tote, and other accessories for stylish yet functional flying. “I’m thrilled to share a collection that speaks to the new realities of travel, all with the hope that it can get people excited for the future,” says Williams.
Ah, the future, something humanity’s been dreaming of since the COVID-19 pandemic landed last March. It was a rough year, even for an icon like Williams. However, Williams knows she’s in a good place because she embraces the everyday job of mom. “My daughter’s innocent eyes see the world with such unwavering happiness and hope, it inspires me to keep pursuing my passions.” And the world keeps watching. Every day.