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; [and] 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.”
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.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is a Hulu series, based on a book by the same name, that is set in the not-too-distant future where women face extreme patriarchal subjugation.
Williams told Ramos after receiving a violation, “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.”
Then, after receiving the game penalty for court violation, Williams told Ramos, “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you’re sorry. … And you stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too!”
Once the match had concluded, Williams didn’t shake the umpire’s hand and she continued demanding an apology as the crowd roared with boos.
During the post-match trophy ceremony, Williams addressed the crowd, saying, “Well, I don’t want to be rude, I don’t want to do questions. [Osaka] played well, this is her first Grand Slam. I know you guys were here rooting. Let’s make this the best moment we can. Let’s not boo anymore. We’re gonna get through this and we’re gonna be positive. No more booing!”