One of the Greatest FEMALE Athletes of All Time

This week tennis superstar Serena Williams revealed that she is twenty weeks pregnant with her first child.

A quick check on the calendar shows that she probably conceived her baby around the first week of December (don’t act like you weren’t curious).

But wait, she played in the Australian Open in January. More than that, she won the Australian Open in January.

She did it while she was pregnant.

Let me say that again, in case you missed it.

Serena Williams won the Australian Open while she was seven or eight weeks pregnant. 

For those readers who are familiar with the crazy workings of the female body, you know that the first trimester of pregnancy is generally considered the most dangerous. This is the time that miscarriages are the most prevalent.

Some critics might say that it was irresponsible for Serena to play in the tournament, especially with the extremely hot temperatures that accompany the Australian Open and can fatigue even the healthiest athletes. Some might say she was putting her baby at risk. But to such critics I would say, who cares?

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Would anyone have guessed she was pregnant here?

Williams was simply doing her job. It is her career to play tennis. Many women have extremely stressful jobs, but they can’t stop working when they are pregnant. That’s a luxury most women don’t have, so why should Serena quit her job before she has to? Granted she is no longer playing competitively for the remainder of her pregnancy, which is understandable because at a certain point it’s not physically possible for her to play on the competitive level she would need to. Let’s not get carried away here. But if Serena was able to compete at an elite level and not compromise her baby’s health at the Australian Open, then more power to her. It doesn’t matter that she’s out for the season. She already made a statement for women everywhere.

She won the Australian Open while she was pregnant.

She showed women they don’t have to sacrifice their careers when they are pregnant. Pregnancy is not a weakness. It is simply a part of a woman; it does not define women.

Serena Williams is internationally recognized for her strength and power. She has famously said that she does not want to be considered one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, but rather one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Most people would agree that she is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She has twenty-three grand-slam singles championships. That’s more than any other tennis player male or female. Ever.

However, this week Serena reminded us all  that she is a woman. Not only is she a woman, she is one of the strongest women. She is showing women that it is possible to have it all- a successful career and a family.

Some people might be thinking, “She was only seven weeks pregnant. The baby is the size of an almond at that point. She probably couldn’t even tell.”

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It sure isn’t going to stay this size

To which I would say, Williams is a professional athlete. Her body is quite literally her living. Even the tiniest change will be noticeable to any athlete who so carefully maintains their body and everything that goes into their body. Yet, she was still able to carry on and make it work.

Former world-ranked #1 men’s singles player Novak Djokovic is notorious for calling medical timeouts during his matches when he has “ailments” such as foot cramps, or blisters. Curiously, these timeouts always seem to come when he is in a slump during his match (coincidence? I think not).

I’ve always found Djokovic’s “timeouts” to be weak and annoying. So has former mens singles champion and color commentator John McEnroe, who has more than once called Djokovic out for violating the on-court rules of calling a medical trainer.

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Oh you poor thing.

Well Novak, I’d love to see you call a medical timeout for a blister on your foot now. I’m sure it’s painful. Anyone who has played tennis regularly, or any sport for that matter, has most likely experienced some gnarly blisters.

But, it is not the equivalent as having a human growing inside of you.

In juxtaposition to Djokovic, some women are also known for playing up their “female bodies.” Say the word menstrual cycle or cramps to a man and they will flee as though they just discovered that you have the plague and tell you to go do whatever you need to do. Easy way out of work or school.

But is this right?

I had quite a few friends in high school who would stay home when they got their periods or complain to their teachers so they could get out of class. Was it that bad? Somehow I doubt it.

Women who cry wolf over their “cramps” are part of the reason why female bodies can be viewed as weak. Suck it up. Very few women actually have the luxury to take a day off because they have cramps. Women need to stop using it as an excuse. Pop a Midol and carry on.

So the next time anyone complains about cramps or blisters on their feet, I invite them to remember- Serena Williams won the Australian Open while she was pregnant.

I Got It From My Mama

To a lot of people sports are still seen as a great opportunity for father/son (some progressives will say father/daughter) bonding time. The quintessential picture of American “family time” is of a father and son basking in the sun at a baseball game, eating hotdogs and sipping an ice-cold lemonade (maybe I’ve watched too many movies set in the 1950’s).

But for me that is not the case.

My love of sports was given to me by my mom. Growing up, I can recall a steady lineup of sports being on the TV on the weekends.

But I don’t think I was always very appreciative of it. I remember Sundays where my mom would want to watch football, but I wanted to watch Lizzie McGuire or whatever preteen Disney show was on TV at the time. To compromise, my mom would simply record the games she wanted to watch so I could watch my shows…and then we would watch football later (it felt like I was winning the battle at the time). Gradually, I began to see reason and would just watch the games live with my mom.

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I still consider this one of the best Disney shows of all time

These Sundays almost always included a New England Patriots game. My mom and I both love Tom Brady. Let’s face it,  I was a teenage girl, there was never any hope not to like Tom Brady circa 2004.

Growing up, I felt like my mom’s interest in football and sports was normal. It never occurred to me that not everyone is into sports, and especially not all girls.

When I went to high school I was excited for Friday night football games. Our school’s team was good- small Catholic school, people care, or at least act like they care. My friends and I went to all of the football games…except I was usually the only one actually watching the game. Don’t you know high school games are about socializing and not watching the game? I did…but I didn’t care. If it was a good game I wanted to watch it.

Flash forward to college and beyond when I now help explain rules to my friends who want to know more about sports because now it’s “cool” if girls know sports. I would always much rather be the girl who knows what she’s talking about, rather than the girl who wants to ask a boy to explain something.

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Goals

A couple of months ago, my mom and I were in an Uber on a Sunday in the middle of the football season. We’re all dressed up because we are going to the theatre. My mom starts chatting to the driver (it’s what she does) about the games going on that day and recent trades and coaching decisions in the NFL. After about ten minutes of this conversation, the driver says, “Wow, you really know your football.”  The tone of surprise is never quite absent when males realize that girls can know about sports too. But at this point I’m used to it. Girls like sports. It’s not a weird thing anymore.

But my mom really does know what she’s talking about (sometimes to my dismay).

Everything I know about sports started with my mom… and sacrificing the Disney channel for football on Sundays.

The Elite Swimsuit Edition

Last weekend I had lunch with my mom.

These visits tend to take a rather ritualistic form. We each drive an hour to meet in the middle (usually at our favorite mall South Coast Plaza), we have lunch and my mom brings me random things she thinks I need, like socks.

This visit, she brought me a piece of Americana- the Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition. 

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What else is February for?

Now, clearly I’m not exactly the demographic that this magazine appeals to, but I do love sports and my family has a subscription to Sports Illustrated, so the swimsuit edition is just part of the package. I have an open mind- female empowerment, own your body and that type of thing. OK.

So I took a look through the magazine. Christie Brinkley with the center spread- yeah she looks good, but why? Model, model, model, are there any athletes in this issue at all? Hannah Jeter- does she count as an athlete now that she tamed Derek Jeter?

On page 84, I finally come across some actual athletes- Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and Simone Biles. And I promptly wished that this issue actually was just full of professional models.

The spread with the two of them was a little shocking, to say the least. Aly Raisman looks like she is trying to remind the world that she’s a grown woman who goes on dates with football players as she posed topless and in other rather indecent poses. Simone Biles just looks plain uncomfortable. I feel you Simone, I am uncomfortable as well.

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This is not what was in SI

Reason number one I am uncomfortable- I still think of these gymnasts as kids.

Obviously, Raisman and Biles are both technically adults now, Raisman slightly more so at age 22. Yet, the thing about gymnastics is that you watch the sport as these athletes are growing up. Many gymnasts hit their peak performance between ages 16-18. The Olympic qualifying age is 16, and gymnasts are often left disappointed when they qualify on skill but do not make the age cut-off. Elite junior gymnastics ranges from ages 11-15, and from there gymnasts can turn elite and make the national team at 16. From the age of 11, gymnasts can be under media scrutiny if they are really good. Personally, I don’t want to see someone I watched maneuver through their adolescent years do a spread in a magazine that is only a slightly more covered version of Playboy.

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So young, so innocent

Simone Biles is 19 years old. She’s old enough to make her own decisions, vote, live by herself, etc. But she’s also been a superior competitor her whole life. Her life has been consumed by schedules and competitions. In turning pro, she is also consumed by endorsements and sponsors. 19 years old is still very young. I would not have been ready for any of this when I was 19. At 19, I was still bringing home my laundry and calling my mom to cry about how creepy boys can be (I still bring home my laundry and boys are still creepy). I imagine Simone led an even more sheltered life, consumed by training and competition. Is she really ready to be in the swimsuit edition? I can only hope Biles has a support system to tell her she doesn’t need to accept every media deal that comes her way and she doesn’t need to sell her body to stay relevant. She’s already gone down as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Reason number two I am uncomfortable- has anyone read the news about the major gymnastics sex scandal going on?

Now, this spread would probably have made me uncomfortable either way, but it is in just very poor taste to do a spread as provocative as this one amongst the allegations of sexual abuse in USA gymnastics.

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I really hope they didn’t know

For those of you who might not know, several national gymnasts have come forward about alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a team doctor. Furthermore, the courts just released 5,600 pages of documents that detail how USA gymnastics did not properly ban coaches convicted of sexual abuse. If true, these allegations reveal decades of sexual abuse. As mentioned above, these gymnasts are competing at the elite level from the age of 11. They go through puberty with their team and coaches. It should be a safe space for them, but that appears to have been taken away.

The Sports Illustrated spread just feels like incredibly bad timing. I’m sure when the photos were taken the scandal hadn’t escalated to what it is now, but SI had plenty of time to pull those photos when the allegations were made public in December of 2016. Would it have cost them money? Sure. Would it have been the right thing to do? Absolutely.

I am a gymnastics fan and I have a ton of respect for both Aly Raisman and Simone Biles. However, I don’t think this spread was the right move for their public image or for Sports Illustrated’s.