In the interview, the tennis pro questioned the much talked-about August 2012 incident in which two high school football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, allegedly raped an intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a party, with classmates documenting the incident via social media. (In March, Mays was sentenced to one year in juvenile detention and Richmond was sentenced to two years. When they turn 21, a future hearing will determine if they have to register as sex offenders based on their crimes).
While watching the news coverage of the case with the Rolling Stone reporter, Williams, 31, asked, "Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people."
She continued, "She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different."
Once the interview was published, the three-time Olympian immediately came under fire for her comments, as commenters expressed their shock and sadness over her take on the case.
"Really Serena? Blame the rape victim. Keep it up. You are a disgrace to ALL WOMEN," one tweeter wrote.
Another wrote, "Pro tip for @serenawilliams or others discussing rape: if "I'm not blaming the girl, but…" exits your mouth, stop there. There is no "but."
As more tweets came flooding in, the athlete published an apology on her website Wednesday, June 19, clarifying what she said.
"What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me," she wrote. "I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused."
She added, "I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written -- what I supposedly said -- is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame."
"I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields -- anything I could do to support women I have done," she finished. "My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child."
On June 8, Williams, who has won four Olympic gold medals, won the 2013 French Open title, her 16th Grand Slam singles title.