Opinion: Serena Williams will never stop equality fight. Billie Jean King would have it no other way

Sometimes, journalism and social media work together in the most interesting way.

After Serena Williams’ shocking loss in Saturday’s Wimbledon final, a reporter had an equally surprising question for Serena:

“There have been a few comments made in the last couple of weeks from people like Billie Jean King that maybe you should stop being a celebrity for a year and stop fighting for equality and just focus on tennis. How do you respond to that?”

Without questioning the role of King, a renowned women’s rights advocate, in the premise of the question, Serena produced her best shot of the day:

“Well, the day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I’m in my grave.”

Serena’s all-world answer quickly worked its way around social media, even finding its way to the Twitter account of one of the top Democratic presidential candidates when Sen. Kamala Harris, D.-Calif., retweeted a video of the question and answer, saying, "@serenawilliams is right. We must never stop fighting for equality.”

Billie Jean King spent time with Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams at last year's U.S. Open. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

While Serena’s answer was receiving universal praise, the question that triggered it started coming under some scrutiny. How was it possible that King, who has made equality for women and girls in sports the centerpiece of her remarkable life, would say that Serena should stop fighting for equality for women and girls in sports?

I’ve known King for years and co-authored a book with her, "Pressure is a Privilege," in 2008. She is the last person on earth who would tell anyone to stop fighting for any cause near and dear to them, especially women’s equality. To me, it sounded like King was talking about how hard it is to take on all kinds of issues and causes while still playing at the top of your game at age 37, but there’s no way she ever would have told anyone to specifically “stop fighting for equality.”

Sure enough, she did not. In an interview with the British website Metro, after mentioning a list of Serena’s commitments, including her business, her daughter, “trying to help gender equity, particularly for women of color,” King said it makes trying to win another Grand Slam event “much harder.”

“I would like to see her put everything else aside from that. She’s got people working on these things. This is just a wish I have, it’s not fair to her, but I wish she would just make a commitment for the next year-and-a-half to two years and just say, ‘I’m going to absolutely devote what’s necessary for my tennis so when I look in the mirror when I’m older, that I can go back in my mind and know I gave everything I had and be happy.' 

“But if she’s happy doing it this way, it’s fine. It’s not about us.”

Once King became aware that she was in the middle of this confusing story, she herself took to Twitter to set the record straight:

“I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality. In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all.”

Whatever controversy there was ended right there. In many ways, it was the perfect ending to a week in which 23 American soccer players found time to both fight for equality and win the 2019 World Cup.

I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality. In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all.

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