It might seem like Serena Williams is a superhero, but of course, she’s a living, breathing person like the rest of us.
In a first-person essay for Harper’s BAZAAR, the tennis star opens up about her struggle with mental health after losing the 2018 US Open. You might remember the dramatic scene during the final match: Williams, 37, was playing against then 20-year-old Naomi Osaka when the umpire issued a violation, claiming that Williams’s coach was signaling to her during the match. Williams erupted in frustration, telling the umpire that “I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose” and smashed her racket. She ultimately lost to Osaka, who was understandably upset by the events and cried as she received her trophy.
Now, in her essay, the athlete and mother reveals just how damaging the incident was to her psyche. “Days passed, and I still couldn’t find peace. I started seeing a therapist,” she recalls. “I was searching for answers, and although I felt like I was making progress, I still wasn’t ready to pick up a racket.”
While Williams had every right to be frustrated by the call, which was criticized by other athletes for being sexist, she realized that the only way to move on was to formally apologize to Osaka. Her apology read:
“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other,” she wrote in an email to Osaka. ‘I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”
Osaka’s response was a short but sweet text that read: “People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two. No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
Though a conflict between two male athletes would have never been publicly blown to this proportion, these women handled the situation with grace and kindness. Kudos to them both for their strength.
“This incident — though excruciating for us to endure — exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day. We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate. We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly is just not something I’m okay with. It’s shameful that our society penalizes women just for being themselves,” Williams says.
In the essay, she also gets candid about other times she’s been discriminated against: “I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve been shamed because of my body shape. I’ve been paid unequally because of my sex. I’ve been penalized a game in the final of a major because I expressed my opinion or grunted too loudly.” Thankfully, Williams promises to continue to be a champion of women’s rights.