Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., isn’t yet three years old, but already her future looks bright – her parents are making it so.
Her parents hope that by the time she turns 18, the world will be a fairer and more equitable place, a world in which women – and Black women, like her – won’t question why opportunities are denied them and they’ll be paid what they are worth.
If Alexis Olympia wants to learn coding and work in the tech industry, her dad will teach her – he’s Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the social news website, Reddit.
Or if she wants to play sports and go professional, then her mom’s got that more than covered; she’s Serena Williams – arguably the greatest player in women’s tennis history.
Ohanian and Williams were engaged in 2016; a year later their daughter was born. They’ve just partnered up again to nurture a new creation – they’re major investors in a team which will join the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in 2022. The Los Angeles based team has been nicknamed ‘Angel City.’
Speaking to CNN, Ohanian outlined how he now sees his role in the world after marrying a global female icon.
“I’ve had a front row seat to exactly how different it is and how much she’s toiled not only as a woman, but as a Black woman,” he said.
Now that he has a young daughter, he’s determined to help with the cause.
“Olympia is not going to question everything Serena has done to make this world better for Olympia. I want to sit at that dinner table when Olympia’s a little older and feel like I’ve done my part, too,” he added.
‘I don’t know how she does it’
As the winner of 23 grand slam singles titles and one of the most dominant athletes – in any sport – over the last two decades, nobody can question Williams’ achievements.
The narrative was always that she was an outsider, fighting her way up from the streets of Compton, just south of Los Angeles to challenge the hierarchy of a traditionally elite, white sport.
There has been notable friction along the way. At the Indian Wells final in 2001, Williams’ father, Richard, and older sister, Venus, were booed as they made their way to their seats prior to the finale, with Richard claiming in USA Today he was the victim of racial abuse.
“One guy said, ‘I wish it was ’75, we’d skin you alive,’” Richard Williams told USA Today. “I had trouble holding back tears. I think Indian Wells disgraced America.” Charlie Pasarell, then the tournament director, said in the same story that he didn’t discount Richard Williams was racially abused.
More than once during our interview, Ohanian refers to the unseen challenges faced by both female and Black athletes.
“I don’t know how she does it,” he says of his wife, Serena, who’s had to endure prejudice on both fronts, including a growing trend of abuse that such figures are now receiving on social media.
Recently, several prominent English Premier League football players have told CNN about the toxicity that is channeled directly to their inboxes.
Having received threatening messages and images of the Ku Klux Klan from a 12-year-old boy, who was later arrested by the police, the Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha described a joyful platform that’s now wrought with fear.
“I’m scared to even look up my direct messages. It could be filled with anything. For Black footballers, being on Instagram is not even fun anymore.”
As one of the leading figures in the tech world, Ohanian has witnessed the rise of hate speech on the Internet; as Serena’s husband, he’s observed the damage it can cause. For professional athletes, who deserve every ounce of their success and who should be able to celebrate accordingly, it’s heartbreaking.
He says that these athletes “didn’t get there just because their dad gave them the job and they’re CEO now. This is where we would hope as humanity to see the very best of us shine and then celebrate it.”
He added, “It’s incredibly disheartening and discouraging to see the ills of this make the experience so bad for people who have demonstrably excelled.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police in May, a movement of racial awakening has swept the globe; Ohanian recognizes that he has a key role to play in that movement. As such, he resigned his position on the board of Reddit, urging the company he co-founded to replace him with a Black candidate.
Writing on Twitter, he said, “I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power. I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his Black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?’” He continued, “It is long overdue to do the right thing. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and for my country.”
In addition, Ohanian has donated one million dollars to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Know Your Rights Camp,’ a campaign to raise awareness on self-empowerment. Ohanian says that the quarterback Kaepernick, who was the first prominent athlete to take a knee in protest of police brutality, is a friend.
While the leading social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all say that they are intolerant of abusive hate speech on their platforms, all are accused of not doing nearly enough to stop it.
Ohanian feels that change is coming soon, whether they like it or not.
He told CNN that he’s funded a company called Sentropy that is building artificial intelligence to help curb such hate and harassment, “because humans alone can’t moderate it. We’re going to need software to help ease the burden.”
He says that Premier League players, especially, seem to targeted for this kind of abuse and artificial intelligence tools are now being created which will allow consumers to control what they will see.
“The best thing, obviously, would be to work directly with platforms. But they have different speeds for adopting technology like this.”
In the meantime, he predicts that consumers will invariably be drawn to smaller social media networks, which are based on shared community interest, “Users are absolutely done with that toxicity.
“The vast majority of people actually do have better things to do and are better humans than that. [But] because of this technology, it’s very, very possible for a small number of people to have an outsized impact; they’re able to do a lot of damage and create a lot of problems.”
The conversation returns to sports and, while Ohanian has always been a big fan of the NFL and the NBA, he makes a surprising confession about the sport that Serena has dominated: “I hated tennis until I met my wife, so I’m a quick learner!
“As a fan of sport for all of my life and then someone who’s got a front row seat to [see] what it really takes, I do have a new appreciation for just how intense it is.
“I thought we worked hard in tech. I really did. I naively thought, ‘Oh, we’re the hardest working industry,’ which is a total farce. What pro athletes do mentally and physically, day in and day out, is just another level.”
Future tennis star?
At 37 years of age, Ohanian has many years still ahead of him; but if he’s going to change the world for his daughter, he’s already got his eye on the calendar, “I have 16 years, give or take, to have enough of an impact,” he told CNN.
What remains to be seen is the kind of role Olympia will want to play when she eventually comes of age. Will she be an athlete, a tech star, an investor or entrepreneur?
“I would love for my daughter to be a CEO and a startup founder,” he says, adding that any career could and should be on the table.
“I would love for her to be a professional athlete. Serena admits that when she sees Olympia running around with a soccer ball, having a great time playing with me, she gets a little jealous. But don’t worry, Olympia is really great with a racket, too.”
Alexis Ohanian is a successful man who has found himself living in a woman’s world; as an investor in ‘Angel City,’ he’s pretty much the odd man out and – despite Forbes’ estimate that his net worth in 2019 was $70 million – he’s not the main breadwinner at home. And he’s absolutely fine with it.
“I get to see the impact that Serena and [her sister] Venus have on so many people all over the world, and it’s humbling.”
Meanwhile, his association with the Williams family has changed how the world sees him, too.
“Ten years ago, I would get stopped for being ‘the Reddit guy’ and that made me feel nice. And then a few years after that, people would be pitching me their startups because they knew I was doing investing and that felt nice, too. But then, a few years ago, people just started shouting at me, ‘Alexis, I love your wife!’ And, you know, obviously that’s a great feeling, too.”
For young Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., at least, the future is in very good hands.