Thursday's 2024 ESPYs doubled as a celebration of the rising popularity of women's sports, as retired tennis superstar Serena Williams hosted the proceedings with ease.

"Get up, get off the TikTok, work hard, find out how capable you are. Be great. Be so great they don't want to believe in you and then be even greater," she told the next generation at the end of her opening monologue.

South Carolina Gamecocks accept the Best Team Award onstage during the 2024 ESPY Awards
The 2023-24 South Carolina Gamecocks took home the ESPY for Best Team. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Women's sports take center stage at ESPYs

Athletes in women's sports were big winners throughout last night's ceremony, reflecting a watershed year across the entire sporting landscape.

Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark took home both the Best College Athlete and Best Record Breaking Performance Awards for her historic NCAA career at Iowa.

USC star JuJu Watkins won Best Breakthrough Athlete after an exceptional freshman season with the Trojans.

Gymnast Simone Biles won Best Comeback Athlete, as the two-time Olympian prepares for her third Summer Games later this month.

Las Vegas Aces' all-time leading scorer A'ja Wilson came up big in both the Best Women's Sports Athlete and Best WNBA Player categories.

The undefeated 2023-24 South Carolina Gamecocks won the award for Best Team.

Dawn Staley accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance onstage during the 2024 ESPY Awards
The Jimmy V Award recognizes "a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination." (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Dawn Staley honored with individual award

SC coach Staley picked up her own honor, receiving the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance for her continued contributions in the field of cancer research advocacy.

Named after NC State men's basketball coach Jim Valvando, the Jimmy V Award recognizes "a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination."

"I must confess, I feel a little undeserving of this recognition," Staley said in her acceptance speech. "Past recipients of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award have faced incredible challenges and proven themselves as true warriors. I have merely been a spectator to such immense courage and resilience."

After opening up about her family's personal connection to the cause, Staley spoke about her greater journey as an advocate, both on and off the court.

"I try my best to do things in the right way, knowing that some little girl is out there watching me... maybe, she's one of the 13 pairs of eyes that see every little thing I do everyday and make sure to comment on it, that's my team," she said, motioning to her undefeated Gamecocks squad seated in the audience.

"How do I not fight pay disparity, when I do the same job and get paid less but win more?" she continued. "I can't ask them to stand up for themselves if I'm sitting down. Nor can I ask them to use their voice for change if I'm only willing to whisper."

Angel Reese celebrated her 22nd birthday in style, turning out for the Met Gala. 

The Chicago Sky rookie wore a custom dress by British label 16Arlington. Reese is just the second WNBA player to ever grace the Met Gala carpet, following Brittney Griner's appearance last year.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Just Women’s Sports (@justwomenssports)

"I’m just excited to see everyone’s outfits. Everyone looks amazing in here. Being here on my 22nd birthday is amazing," Reese told WWD ahead of the event. "I feel beautiful and I feel sexy."

She later took to Twitter, writing that "being able to play the game I love & live my dream in the fashion world all on my 22nd birthday is a blessing."

Reese wasn’t the only women's sports athlete to grace the Met Gala this year. Rolex Women's World Golf Ranking No. 1 Nelly Korda arrived as a guest of Wasserman Media Group chairperson Casey Wasserman, making her the first LPGA golfer to attend the event. Korda wore Oscar de la Renta

Former host and red carpet regular Serena Williams showed up in a gold Balenciaga gown. She reunited with tennis great Maria Sharapova at the event, while sister Venus Williams was also in attendance.

This year's Met Gala theme was "Garden of Time."

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Just Women’s Sports (@justwomenssports)

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Serena Williams met with U.S. women’s national team stars after watching their 3-0 win Saturday against China.

The retired tennis great cheered on the USWNT at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, alongside husband Alexis Ohanian and daughter Olympia. The family are investors in NWSL club Angel City FC.

After the match, the 23-time Grand Slam champion took the time to meet with USWNT players, including Trinity Rodman, who contributed a goal and two assists, as well as Midge Purce, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma, Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson.

“She was very sweet, very humble, which is refreshing and amazing,” Rodman said. “And obviously we all look up to her, one of the greatest female athletes in the world. So to meet her in person and see how she was incredible.”

When Rodman met with reporters after the game, she explained her delay by noting that Williams wanted to meet with her. And Williams asked for her jersey from the match — but the 21-year-old forward already had gifted it to a fan. Rodman, though, found another jersey to give to the tennis legend.

“I gave one of my jerseys away to a fan, and then I walked across the field, and somebody said, ‘Serena wants to meet you,’” Rodman said. “I was like, ‘Serena who?’ They were like, ‘Serena Williams.’ I walked over there, and she’s like, ‘Can I have your jersey?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I dug in the dirty bag from the beginning of the half to find mine and gave it to her.”

The USWNT will close out the year with another friendly against China at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Serena Williams speaks with Naomi Girma and Sophia Smith after the USWNT's 3-0 win against China. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena Williams shakes hands with Midge Purce, who helped set up the final goal of the match. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena William and daughter Olympia take a photo with USWNT forwards Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena Williams poses for a photo with USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore after the 3-0 win. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)

Alex Morgan is getting into golf.

The U.S. women’s national team and San Diego Wave star announced Friday that she is joining The Golf League as an investor in the Los Angeles team, alongside retired LPGA great Michelle Wie West, tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and more.

“It’s official, my husband and I are married to the game,” she wrote on social media. “I’m thrilled to announce my involvement as an investor with @WeAreLAGC, the inaugural team of @TGL!”

TGL is a new league set to begin play in January 2024, founded by golfers Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Some of the top players in the world will compete in three-on-three team competitions using golf simulator technology.

Initially, four teams were announced: Boston, New York, Atlanta and LA. Two more are expected to join the league, which has partnered with the PGA Tour.

“We’re providing a form of the game that looks more like other sports,” Mike McCarley — CEO of Tmrw Sports, the company behind TGL — told Fast Company. “This is going to be an NBA courtside experience, whether you’re there in person or watching on television.”

It’s unknown if or when pros from the LPGA will become involved in the new league. But other investors in the league, including Serena Williams’ husband and fellow TGL investor Alexis Ohanian, are committed to making that happen.

“My first question was, when can we get the LPGA involved? And it’s not just because my daughter is into golf,” Ohanian said. “It would be nice to help elevate the women’s game.”

Ohanian first connected with Morgan when he started tuning into the NWSL, and he later joined Angel City FC as an investor. Now, he’s helped the soccer star become part of TGL.

“Golf has become a family hobby,” Morgan told Fast Company. “So, [investing in LAGC] was a no brainer. It’s something I wanted to be a part of.”

From there, Morgan reached out to Wie West, who was on board almost immediately.

“It’s great to have the same mission: democratizing the dream, breaking down the stigmas of golf, and really showcasing how fun it is,” Wie West said. “We really want to use TGL, to use technology, to help bring this sport to people and communities that would have not otherwise been exposed to it.”

She’s also committed to bringing women golfers into the sport.

“I’ve had many conversations with LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie [Marcoux Samaan],” she said. “Getting women involved is something that’s very important to me. We’re gonna make it happen. When? I hope soon.”

Simona Halep is set to appeal the four-year doping ban she received from the International Tennis Integrity Agency.

The ITIA announced the ban Tuesday, citing two anti-doping rule violations. The suspension runs until Oct. 6, 2026. Halep had been provisionally suspended since last October after testing positive for Roxadustat, a banned blood-booster, at last year’s US Open.

In a statement, Halep said that she “refused to accept” the decision, and that she would appeal to sport’s highest court.

“I am continuing to train and do everything in my power to clear my name of these false allegations and return to the court,” Halep said. “I intend to appeal this decision to The Court of Arbitration for Sport and pursue all legal remedies against the supplement company in question.”

A two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1, Halep famously bested Serena Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final. With the win, she kept Williams from winning her eighth Wimbledon title and her 24th Grand Slam singles title.

Williams, who retired in 2022 with seven Wimbledon titles and 23 major singles titles to her name, seemingly responded to Halep’s suspension Tuesday on social media.

“8 is a better number,” she wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian also responded indirectly to the ITIA ruling.

“Some fashion is timeless,” he wrote, alongside a photo of himself in a “D.A.R.E.” anti-drug shirt at one of Williams’ matches.

“Seriously not out of style,” Williams replied.

An independent tribunal sat through two days of evidence from scientific experts and sifted through 8,000 pages of evidence and testimony from Halep. While the tribunal accepted Halep’s argument that she had taken a contaminated supplement, the volume ingested could not have resulted in the concentration of roxadustat found in her positive sample, the tribunal concluded.

“Today, a tribunal under the tennis anti-doping program announced a tentative decision in my case,” Halep wrote in response to the ban. “The last year has been the hardest match of my life, and unfortunately my fight continues.

“I have devoted my life to the beautiful game of tennis. I take the rules that govern our sport very seriously and take pride in the fact I have never knowingly or intentionally used any prohibited substance.”

Growing up, Coco Gauff idolized Serena and Venus Williams.

In a mostly white sport, Gauff saw herself in the Black sisters who dominated the sport during her childhood. And in the aftermath of her U.S. Open victory Saturday, Gauff credited the sisters.

“They’re the reason why I have this trophy today,” Gauff said. “They’ve allowed me to believe in this dream. Growing up, there weren’t too many Black tennis players dominating the sport. It was just them at the time that I can remember, and obviously more came because of their legacy. It made the dream more believable.”

Gauff defeated Aryna Sabalenka, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the tournament finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium, falling to the ground and crying when she won. Gauff, 19, became the first American teen to win the U.S. Open since Serena Williams in 1999.

Williams, of course, went on to win the tournament another five times, including in 2002, when she defeated her sister in the final. Gauff wasn’t born until 2004, but she grew up with the backdrop of both Williams sisters as icons of the sport.

And on Saturday, Gauff joined her heroes and etched her name as one of the titans of the sport.

“All the things they had to go through, they made it easier for someone like me to do this,” Gauff said. “You look back at the history of Indian Wells with Serena, and all she had to go through. Venus, fighting for equal pay. It’s crazy and it’s an honor to be in the same lineup as them.”

Coco Gauff has one regret that she may never be able to get over.

The 19-year-old made her first US Open final with a straight-sets win over Karolina Muchova, becoming the youngest American to reach the final at the Grand Slam since Serena Williams did it in 1999 at age 17. Williams went on to win the first of her 23 major singles titles.

So it seems a little bit like fate that, one year after Williams retired at the US Open, another American is following in her footsteps. Gauff became the first American teenager to reach the US Open semifinals since Williams in 2001.

And both Gauff and U.S. men’s player Ben Shelton, 20, have made more history. This year marked the first time multiple Americans aged 20 or younger have made it to the semifinals of the same Grand Slam since Venus and Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2000.

Yet while some might see Gauff as the face and the future of American tennis, she is in excellent company. At this year’s US Open, multiple Americans have made deep runs — including 28-year-old Madison Keys, who lost to Aryna Sabalenka in the other semifinal.

“I don’t think I’m carrying American tennis. I don’t think I will,” Gauff told ESPN. “We have so many compatriots who are doing well.

“Serena is Serena. She’s the GOAT. I’d hope to do half of what she did. But I’m not gonna compare myself to her. She’s someone I look up to. Being in the same stat line as her means a lot to me. She’s my idol.”

Still, Gauff – who never once played against Williams professionally – has just one regret.

“The only regret I’ll have for the rest of my life is not being able to play her,” she said. “There were so many tournaments where if we won an extra round and didn’t lose, I would’ve played her. I’m still happy to just be a product of her legacy.”

Venus Williams made a return to the court Tuesday at the Libéma Open for her first match in more than five months.

The 42-year-old had not competed since the second round of the ASB Classic in New Zealand. in January. While she defeated Katie Volynets in the match, she suffered a hamstring injury, forcing her to withdraw from that tournament and from the Australian Open.

Her comeback came via wild-card entry to the Libéma Open. The first-round match marked her first time playing in the Netherlands and her first singles tournament on grass since Wimbledon in 2021. (She participated in mixed doubles at Wimbledon last year.)

Competing against Celine Naef, Williams won her first set 6-3 but lost the second set in a tiebreak 7-6 (7-3). Naef, a 17-year-old who also received a wild-card entry to the tournament, took the third set 6-2 to win the match.

Among those in attendance to watch the match was Venus’ younger sister Serena Williams, who announced her retirement from tennis last year. In May, she announced that she is pregnant with her second child.

Serena Williams stole the show Monday night at the Met Gala, as the tennis star announced that she is pregnant with her second child.

She and husband Alexis Ohanian are already parents to 5-year-old daughter Olympia.

Williams announced the news on Instagram ahead of the red carpet for the annual fashion event. She shared a photo carousel in which she is featured in one picture holding her baby bump. The post was captioned: “Was so excited when Anna Wintour invited the 3 of us to the Met Gala.”

The news comes after Williams announced her “evolution” away from tennis in Vogue last August. In that first-person essay, she also shared hopes of expanding their family with another baby.

She “never thought about having kids” early on in her career, she wrote in Vogue. And while she says she figured that she would “have people taking care of it 24/7” if she ever did have a baby, she’s been “an incredibly hands-on mother” with Olympia.

“In five years, Olympia has only spent one 24-hour period away from me,” she wrote. “This past year, while I was recovering from a hamstring injury, I got to pick her up from school four or five days a week, and I always looked forward to seeing her face light up when she walked out of the building and saw me waiting there for her. The fact is that nothing is a sacrifice for me when it comes to Olympia.”

Williams has also been vocal about her experience of giving birth to Olympia in 2017, as she dealt with life-threatening blood clots following an emergency cesarean section.

“It gives me a lot of reason beyond what I do, and so, it’s really important,” she told People in January 2021 of her husband and daughter. “I’ve been so focused on my career my whole life, but when I had a family and got married, I realized that there’s so much more to life. And that was great.”

Also in attendance were Eileen Gu and Brittney Griner. It was Griner’s first Met Gala, while Gu was making her second-straight appearance.