Without their father, we probably never would have witnessed the athletic force that is the Williams sisters

By Catherine Orda | Lead photo from Instagram 

It’s unfair to make general pronouncements about father-daughter relationships, as while, presumably, a lot of love and support is present in many cases, each individual case is just too personal and complex to benefit from any kind of cliche description. Like in sports, where the stakes are not only dangerous, but are also extremely specific, fathers who are athletes face highly nuanced dilemmas when faced with the prospect of their daughters joining the brutal world of competitive sports. We take a look at the stories of some of the most iconic father-daughter athlete duos and see how each father reacted to that prospect, and how they, in their own respective ways, forged a path of athletic greatness for their daughters.


Laila and Muhammad Ali

The late, great Muhammad Ali once said, “Boxing isn’t for women; it’s a man’s sport.” He was addressing his daughter, the undefeated professional boxer, Laila Ali, who at a young age, started taking interest in her father’s sport. Laila’s path to professional boxing wasn’t a product of paternal idolatry—she wasn’t exactly doing it in order to follow her dad’s footsteps or to make him proud. What led to the young Ali’s decision to take on the sport was seeing women do it professionally. “Actually, I never even thought about boxing until I saw it with my own eyes—women, in the ring. And I started training, pretty much in secrecy.”

And then came a point in which she decided to turn pro. Her father remained unsupportive and uncomfortable about the prospect of his daughter becoming a boxer. “What if you get knocked down?” he asked her. The turning point came during Laila’s professional match—she won, knocking out her opponent. In a recent piece for Womens Health, Laila details her father’s reaction to the said match:

“My father came to my dressing room and he gave me a hug and a kiss. I looked at him and he’s like, ‘Girl, you bad.’ Meaning, you’re good. He was kind of living through me a little bit as I danced around the ring like he used to.” From that point on, Ali was deeply supportive of his daughter who has gone on to hold five different titles, including the IWBF light heavyweight title.


Venus, Serena, and Richard Williams

Unlike Muhammad Ali, the Williams sisters’ father Richard was deeply excited about the idea of his daughters becoming professional athletes. In fact, he could be credited as starting Venus’ and Serena’s tennis careers. After watching a tennis match on TV, Richard taught himself the rules of the game and laid out a 78-page plan and taught his two daughters the rather complex game. The sisters have since gone on to win multiple Grand Slam titles and dominated, and reinvented, the sport. As for Richard? He remained unconditionally loving and supportive throughout, teaching his daughters to continue being proud and independent young women.


Sloane and John Stephens

The New England Patriot running back John Stephens was a proud father to his tennis player daughter Sloane, declaring that she would someday beat Serena Williams. According to Sports on Earth, Stephens would tell his friends, “She gon’ beat that Serena [Williams] one day, you watch and see.” And that’s exactly what happened. In 2013, Sloane defeated Williams at the 2013 Australian Open. The 25-year-old Stephens has since gone on to win the 2017 US Open.


Nastia and Valeri Liukin

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family is forever ❤️

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The 1988 Summer Games gold medalist and gymnast Valeri Lukin brought up his daughter Nastia in a sports-filled environment. The 28-year-old Nastia eventually became an Olympic gold medalist herself. In 2008, she placed at the top of the podium in the individual all-around category at the Beijing Games—the same category in which her father narrowly missed a gold medal.


Karl Malone and Cheryl Ford

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June 6, 1981 – Cheryl Ford is born in Homer, Louisiana. Happy 32nd Birthday Cheryl Ford! Cheryl Ford is the daughter of Bonita Ford and former NBA player Karl Malone. In 2003 she was drafted as the No. 3 overall pick in the first round by the Detroit Shock in the WNBA Draft. In just her first year in the league, Ford led the Shock from a worst to first record and a WNBA championship in 2003. She is the first player to have won the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award and a WNBA championship in the same year. #cherylford #karlmalone #LouisianaTech #detroitshock #detroit #newyorkliberty #wnba #brittneygriner #skylardiggina #elenadelledonne #tamikacatchings #utahjazz #G1B2 #teamjesus #faith #nba #aau #bball #basketball #ballsohard #solecollector #nicekicks #jordan #airjordan #kobe #durant #lebron #miamiheat #spurs #CHRISTisKING

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Former Utah Jazz forward and 14-time NBA All-Star Karl Malone is the father of the 2003 WNBA Rookie of the Year Cheryl Ford. In her first season as a professional basketball player, Ford played for the Detroit Shock—a team, which, under her leadership rose from the bottom to the top of the rankings in just a matter of months. The Detroit Shock also won its first WNBA title that same summer, with Ford earning the title of Rookie of the Year as well as a championship trophy.

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