This past weekend, Serena Williams proved that she isn’t just the greatest tennis player of all time, but perhaps “America’s greatest athlete.” The 33-year old won her sixth Wimbledon title, her twenty-first singles Grand Slam win and she also completed the coveted “Serena Slam,” winning the past four Grand slams (US Open, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon).
It’s clear: Serena is the GOAT.
Yet, hours before her historic win, the esteemed New York Times published a problematic and tone deaf article titled “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition.” While from first glance it sounds like it could be an affirming piece encouraging the diversity of bodies in the tennis game — sadly it was quite the opposite.
It was nothing more than salty white people commenting on how undesirable Serena’s body is: “[Serena] has large biceps and a mold-breaking muscular frame, which packs the power and athleticism that have dominated women’s tennis for years. Her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to.”
One tennis coach admitted to the Times how important it is to keep his player Agnieszka Radwanska petite. “It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10. Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.”
I guess only “slender, blonde Russian[s]” like Maria Sharapova, you know “real women,” deserve to be in the Women’s Tennis Association.
Thankfully Twitter (including Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling) got the haters all the way together, calling the media out and being clear that Serena is an ultimate goddess. But sadly, this visceral response to Serena’s greatness isn’t new or rare.
As so eloquently stated by Vox, since Serena was a teen grunting on the court with beads in her hair, her career has been plagued with racist, sexist and even transphobic remarks from the media and the public. On one hand, the public refuses to let Serena own her femininity by calling her a “man” or comparing her to an animal. And on the other hand, her physique has been eroticized and gawked at like she is this generation’s Hottentot Venus (Remember how the world lost their mind over Serena’s black cat suit at the US Open in 2002?)
In addition, she has been the “butt” of other tennis players’ jokes and has been booed and screamed at while on the court. And despite Serena being the most successful player in the game; she still makes half the endorsement money that Sharapova makes.
One would think that in 2015, folks would have a better understanding that bodies and beauty can come in different shapes, tones and textures and that white isn’t the only standard of beauty. Or better yet, what does Serena’s beauty have anything to do with her ferocious backhand?
It doesn’t. But they stay mad.
Mad that Serena has succeeded in this way without assimilating, without apologizing and without seeming phased. Mad that when even Serena plays mediocre — massive double faults and all — she still walks away with the grand prize, sending her opponents home empty-handed.
Mad in the same way that they stay mad at President Obama and Misty Copeland and the countless other Black people that have the audacity to not only infiltrate these traditionally white-only spaces, but dominate and be leaders in them.
Oh well, all I can say is that these folks better get used to it, because Black excellence isn’t going anywhere, no matter how hard you try to undermine it.
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