Serena Williams, the #1 tennis player, has had a successful year. This year alone she completed her second “Serena Slam,” released her new HSN statement collection at New York Fashion Week, was named the second-highest-paid female athlete in 2015 according to Forbes, and, most recently, was awarded the high honor of becoming Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.
This year was spectacular for me. For @SportsIllustrated to recognize my hard work, my dedication, and my sheer determination gives me hope to continue on and do better. As I always say, it takes a village it’s not just one person. This is not just an accomplishment for me, but for my whole team. I am beyond honored. I love you guys! 2016? #letsdoit ❤️?
Alongside her mother and three sisters, Williams became the first black female athlete to win the award since 1983, after trumping an unlikely rival- thoroughbred racehorse American Pharoah. The negative reaction to the 34-year-old’s accolade is proof of America’s complicated views towards gender and racial equality.
Losing just three of 53 matches, Williams gave a moving acceptance speech encouraging female athletes everywhere to push their limits and be the “best you can be.”
“For all the ladies out there, yes, we can do it! We used to not be encouraged to play sports, let alone excel,” she said with a gleam in her eye. “My hope with winning this award is that I can encourage many more women to stand right here at this podium and accept another Sportsperson of the Year award. Yes, ladies, it can be done!”
The criticism probably sparked she didn’t fit the stereotype of the old-fashioned, elegant white female tennis player, but Sports Illustrated wanted a winner that embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement,” which might have proved a decisive setback for American Pharoah.
Being a strong, skilled, competent and self-respecting woman, part of the problem is that some racing circles pretend that horses are humans. Looking at the cover and the attention it received, it reminds us Williams is not defined by tennis, she understands it is possible for women to own and self-define your sexuality.