Oscar and Grammy award-winning rapper Common sat down with one of the greatest athletes in the world, Serena Williams, for an hour-long conversation for The Undefeated: In Depth: Common and Serena on ESPN. The two, who previously dated and are still very close, had an intimate conversation about Williams’ tennis career, the challenges of being a black woman in sports, body image, why she brought fashion back to the tennis court and why she uses her platform to speak out about injustice.
Williams, who has been constantly scrutinized in the press (usually by white men) for her body and demeanor on the tennis court, revealed that she stopped reading press about herself when she was 17 years old. “I think that helped me avoid a lot of the scrutiny, and I kind of put myself in a bubble,” she told Common. “I feel like I definitely was scrutinized because I was confident — I was black and I was confident. And I am black and I am confident. But I would say, ‘I feel like I can be No. 1.’ Well, why shouldn’t I say that? If I don’t think I’m going to be the best, why do I play?”
Earlier this year, Williams released a campaign with Nike calling her “The Greatest Female Athlete Ever” with the ‘female’ crossed out. It was a play on an interview question Williams got asked by a reporter during Wimbledon in July. It’s also something people constantly use to undermine Williams.
“I think if I were a man, I would have been in that conversation a long time ago,” she said in the interview. I think being a woman is just a whole new set of problems from society that you have to deal with, as well as being black, so it’s a lot to deal with — and especially lately. I’ve been able to speak up for women’s rights because I think that gets lost in color, or gets lost in cultures. Women make up so much of this world, and, yeah, if I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago,” Williams said to Common.
Williams also discussed how much of a struggle it can be to handle this sort of pressure.
“It’s very challenging because sometimes when things are blatantly wrong and blatantly unfair and blatantly racist or sexist, I just have to go and put on a brave smile and not let anyone know how I feel on the inside so they don’t get that satisfaction even though on the inside I would be dying,” she said.
She also talked about police brutality and her fear for her nephews (who she penned a widely-read note to on Facebook this year) and her own future son.
Watch the entire segment below.