Morning Joe, 6/23/13, 8:00 PM ET

How Venus Williams fought for pay equality in tennis

Director Ava Duvernay joins Morning Joe to discuss "Venus Vs.," a documentary for ESPN's "Nine for IX" summer series. In the film, Duvernay shows how tennis...

Venus Williams’ volley for equal pay

Updated

A new documentary set to air next week focuses on Venus Williams’ fight to close the gender pay gap in the world of tennis.

The tennis player’s story captured the European public beginning in 2005 when she challenged the long-standing practice of paying women tennis players less money than men at Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world.

“I don’t think it’s fair. I feel that tennis is a premiere sport for women, so we have to set an example here,” Williams says in the documentary.

Williams lobbied the British parliament for financial parity. Wimbledon eventually relented in 2007, the same year Williams became the first women’s champion to earn as much as the men’s winner, Roger Federer.

“It was really not so much about the difference in pay as it was about the fact that there is a difference in pay,” Ava Duvernay, director and screenwriter of the film, said Monday on Morning Joe. “Venus didn’t like that, and she did something about it.”


But overall, women are still far from reaching pay parity with men. House Republicans earlier this year blocked a vote on legislation seeking to close loopholes in the half-century old Equal Pay Act. Women still earn $0.77 to every dollar earned by a man.

Male tennis players are notably absent in the documentary’s interviews, and none of them joined Williams’ and the Women’s Tennis Association’s fight.

“Most of the male champions and male athletes at the time and even now—all of whom refused to be interviewed for this—did not support this idea of equalizing,” Duvernay said. “You get to the notion of, it’s not going to hurt you if it’s equal, so why can’t it not be?”

“The men opposed it,” she added. “There were a number of male players who were very vocal about the fact that they thought the women’s game was not as interesting.”

Williams withdrew from this year’s Wimbledon tournament because of a back injury.

Venus Vs. airs July 2 on ESPN at 8 p.m.

Venus Williams' volley for equal pay

Updated