Serena Williams on her first million-dollar check and the gender pay gap
Top-ranked tennis player Serena Williams shared her views on money as one of the highest earning athletes in the world.
She talked about making millions at a young age with sports business manager Maverick Carter on his video series “Kneading Dough”. The show is produced through Uninterrupted, LeBron James’ media company.
Williams started playing pro when she was 13, and has been accepting professional-level sums since. But she says she’s never been too interested in money.
“When I first turned pro, I had to go pick up my check. I never, never picked it up,” she relates. “So at the end of the year, the tournament directors would literally hand me the check because I would never go get it. I just played for the love of the sport.”
She continues, “I’ve actually never played for money. I just thought you would go out there and hold a trophy. Not once did I think about a check.”
When she received her first million dollars, she had no clue on what to do with it. “I never touched [the money] — just put it in the bank,” she shares, and admits she didn’t know how to properly deposit it.
“I remember I went through the drive-thru to deposit my check, and then they were like, ‘I think you need to come in for this.'”
Her father who coached her and sister Venus allowed them to make their own financial decisions as teenagers. She credits her humble upbringing to never wanting for much.
“I never ever, ever felt broke,” she tells Carter. “Looking back, I’m like, wow, we lived in a two-bedroom house with seven people… I don’t know how my parents were able to make me feel that way, but they did, and that was something really special. So I never felt when I came into money that I needed to go buy this [or that] because I never wanted it, so it was a great way [to grow up].”
Even with 23 Grand Slam titles—not counting doubles titles with her sister—what matters to her is leveling the playing field between women and men in sports. She and Venus have been outspoken about the gender pay gap in tennis.
“You sacrifice so much, just as much as the guy next to me that’s training everyday, but he gets to be paid more. How do you explain that? I could never really understand that.”
She credits American tennis great Billie Jean King for making prize money equal in Grand Slam tournaments and wants to continue her path. “Venus and I definitely do a lot of work. At the Grand Slam, it’s definitely equal; at other tournaments it’s almost there, which is fine too, we’re getting there, but it’s a work in progress and we continue to fight the good fight.”
At the Western & Southern Open in 2016, Williams received $495,000 while Roger Federer earned $731,000 for winning the same trophy.
She explains, “If I were a man, it would be a different story. I feel like if I’ll be able to open the door for the next person, that means a lot for me too, and hopefully they’ll be able to do better than me.” Niña V. Guno/JB
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