Abby Wambach is defending fellow athlete Serena Williams to the very end.
The former soccer star, 38, opened up to PEOPLE in an exclusive interview about Williams’ verbal dispute with an umpire at the U.S. Open women’s singles final last weekend saying the tennis champion was “sticking up for herself.”
“Here’s the thing — so, there’s many different subtle ways of being discriminated against. And Serena is dealing with a whole bunch,” Wambach tells PEOPLE while promoting her new book Wolfpack.
“She’s the best in the world, so she’s going to get scrutinized the most; she’s a woman of color; she’s a woman; she’s just coming back from having a baby.”
“She is a literal walking, breathing science experiment at how the world relates to people that are perceived as less than or marginalized,” the athlete continues. “What Serena got herself into, and what the world has witnessed, and what this guy, this umpire, has put out into the universe was just a microcosm of what’s been happening in our culture.”
Wambach adds Williams “stood her ground” and is “proud to know her.”
“I’m proud to have been on the sports section alongside of her through my career,” Wambach says. “She does get to have an argument in this. Because when you talk about the way that men treat their umpires, when you talk about the way men are revered for the way they battle in sport and how women are then called all these kinds of names: bitchy, or throwing a fit or losing it or whatever.
“All of that is just proof that what the world needs is strong women to lead the charge, to figure out new rules of how things need to go and to lead everyone else behind because the old ways of doing things, the old ways of the world, they’re gone.”
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Williams entered into a verbal altercation with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos for illegal coaching from her player box during the first set in her match against Naomi Osaka during the weekend.
Of the heated exchange, Wambach says the star athlete had a right to feel the emotions she felt.
“First of all, she’s a competitor, she was upset and felt like she was being wronged and was sticking up for herself, then it gets to opinions of the U.S. Open,” Wambach says. “The way you saw that whole thing go down, every human being makes an assessment about what their thoughts were.”
She adds, “If you’re a man appalled at seeing Serena Williams stick up for herself in a sporting event you need to check yourself. You have to figure out, you have to go to the base of it because this woman, who is strong and powerful, was talking to a man in a certain way. Did it make you feel different? Did it make you feel scared, or ‘Oh, gosh, she can’t do that!’ It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale.”
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