At just five years old her raw passion for athleticism was born. Practicing tennis with her dad at the courts on Compton Boulevard at a time when the city was riddled with drugs, crime, homelessness, and gangs. Playing in just jeans and a t-shirt. (Paul Vercammen and Christina MacFarlane, CNN.com) Twelve years later playing in New York City, New York in 1999 and winning her first US Open at only seventeen years old. This win was quickly followed by a professional tennis career filled with nothing but success. Going on to win the US Open five more times, being a seven time Wimbledon singles champion, six time Australian Open singles champion, and three time French Open singles champion. For doubles she is a six time Wimbledon champion, four time Australian Open champion, two time US Open champion, and 2 time French Open champion. She’s also dabbled in some mixed doubles matches winning Wimbledon and US Open Mixed Doubles championships (https://www.espn.com/tennis/history/ _/type/women). Obviously she also racked up a few olympic medals as well being a three time Olympics doubles gold medalist and Olympics singles gold medalist. But this information isn’t what you find from a simple google search of her name.
Search Serena Williams and instead you’ll find pages and pages of articles such as International Business Times discussing her Most Daring Fashion Choices on the Court Over the Years (https://msn.com), People Magazine’s article titled Serena Williams Shares Sexy Instagram Selfie(https://people.com/sports), and cartoons mocking her ?outburst’ at the recent 2018 US Open. Arguably the best athlete to have come out of the United States is being objectified, exploited, and slandered by some of the most popular and easily accessible media outlets.
Serena Williams is the winner of the most grand slam titles in the modern time, second most in all of history. She is only one title away from being tied with Margaret Court who retired years before Serena was even born, and two titles away from taking the number one spot of the most grand slam titles ever (https://www.espn.com/tennis/history/_/type/women). So why would the media choose to ignore her success as an athlete and instead highlight her clothing choices, body type, and emotional displays? The only reason for this is racism and sexism. The media reinforces a stereotype that black women are overly emotional, sexual beings that don’t deserve the same respect as their white, specifically male, counterparts. This has been very obviously portrayed by the image created to define Serena throughout her career.
We are going to start out by addressing the angry black woman narrative that has plagued women of color since, what seems like, the beginning of time. Serena, just as all the black women before her, is a victim of this. This stereotype insinuates that black women are always angry and theatrical in their emotions. Evidence of this can be seen even in simply the pictures chosen to represent these women. You will see women of color frowning or yelling or really displaying any type of intense emotion used even when it isn’t appropriate; as if there’s no other option of photo to use.
Another way this is done is through the choice of descriptive words that turn a human, emotional display into an explosion, or outburst when it is pertaining to a black woman but as outspoken and righteous for a white man. I will go into more detail of this example later when discussing this year’s US Open. Just for one instance of the initial example, there was a tweet made by popular media source, The Daily Star with the headline Maria Sharapova Slammed by Serena Williams AGAIN with a photo of Russian tennis player, Sharapova, grinning in front of the Eiffel Tower in a cropped tank top, mini skirt, and stiletto heels holding a French Open trophy. We see Serena’s picture right next to it, donned in her Wimbledon whites, gripping her racket and clenching her fists making a face so powerful I can hear the scream she is making through the picture (https://twitter.com/daily_star/). There are plenty of images of Sharapova on the courts making awful, intense faces (as everyone does when they are playing a professional sport) and there are many images of Serena dolled up in formal wear smiling beautifully. But, the media consistently uses pictures such as these to make it seem as if black women have no other expression other than rage, to continue this archaic stereotype. Speaking of the archaic stereotypes of black women, another is that the black female body has only ever been represented in one of two ways: an obese mammy archetype only suitable for childbearing, or a hypersexual deviant whose curves were designed solely for the enjoyment of men.
Serena Williams has been oversexualized and criticized for her muscular and curvaceous body since the very beginning of her career. Unfortunately the amount of comments have not only increased as her fame has grown, but so have the intensity of these comments. Many male sports journalists have written full length articles solely based on their personal opinions of Serena’s body. In 2002 Sunday Telegraph columnist Otis Gibson gave his opinion on her US Open outfit stating that it only serves to accentuate a superstructure that is already bordering on the digitally enhanced and a rear end that I will attempt to sum up as discreetly as possible by simply referring to it as formidable. (https://www.csub.edu). Just for clarification the definition of formidable is inspiring fear through being impressively large, powerful, or intense. If this is what Otis Gibson believes is a discrete comment, let alone appropriate, I truly question his integrity as a journalist. In 2006 the Telegraph’s Matthew Norman wrote that tennis requires a mobility Serena cannot hope to achieve while lugging around breasts that are registered to vote in a different US state from the rest of her. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/tennis/australian). Again, another apparently professional journalist comfortably writing such disrespectful comments about the best women’s tennis player.
Now as a progressing society we’d hope that these kinds of disgusting comments are no longer being made about Serena’s body in 2018. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 2018 French Open, makes her return to the court for her first Grand Slam Event since her life threatening childbirth the previous year. When I say life threatening, this is no exaggeration. I am referring to her postpartum complications following an emergency caesarean delivery. It all started with a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot that blocks arteries in the lungs. This blood clot caused severe coughing for lengthy periods of time. This violent coughing then caused her very recent c-section wound to rip open. As she was in surgery to repair the c-section wound, the surgeons discovered a large hematoma in her abdomen (https://www.vogue.com/article/serena). Serena has a long medical history with blood clots and though these complications were anticipated, it doesn’t make them any less dangerous. So at the French Open Serena’s outfit was specifically designed as a full body compression piece to prevent these blood clots. But this outfit was then banned for its disrespect of the game and this is coming directly from the French Tennis Federation president, Bernard Giudicelli. To put this phrase in more context the full quote is Serena’s outfit this year, would no longer be accepted. You have to respect the game and the place. (https://www.npr.org/2018/08/24). The thing is there is nothing disrespectful about a functional outfit that helps prevent the blood clots that nearly killed her just a year ago. But tennis officials find disrespectful to wear hypersexual attire on the courts and this is completely reasonable. However, Serena was very modestly covered up and this outfit was practical for medical reasons; it was in no way sexual unless you are offended by, and discouraging a certain body type. Black women are constantly being shamed for their curves and for their figures and this situation only proves this sad reality. The oversexualization of black women is something that occurs time and time again. Not only is it horribly objectifying, but situations like this only enforce the barrier between black women and success in professional sports.
While Serena is often horribly oversexualized she also faces frequent negative criticism based on her appearance which has been compared to that of a man by many internet trolls and her weight has been judged by news reporters. Online Foxnews sport journalist, co-host of the daily sports TV show Speak For Yourself and columnist for the Kansas City Star, Jason Whitlock posted a lengthy criticism of Serena titled Serena Could Be the Best Ever But in which he states that At 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, Serena would be unstoppable on the court and on the cover of every magazine still in circulation…Instead, Serena is arguably pushing 175 pounds… I am not fundamentally opposed to junk in the trunk, although my preference is a stuffed onion over an oozing pumpkin. (https://msn.foxsports.com/tennis/story/9757816)
It seems that Serena just can’t win she’s either too fat or too muscular and she has been compared to that of a gorilla on more than one occasion by the public.
Serena Williams looks like a gorilla with a wig
Serena Williams looks like a gorilla, and sounds like a gorilla when she grunts while hitting the ball. In conclusion, she is a gorilla.
Serena Williams is a direct descendant of the silver back gorilla
Serena Williams needs to be in the zoo. She’s bigger than a damn gorrila and goes ape shit when she loses (https://twitter.com/Zonkednerd/status/607171288550014976)
All of these quotes were posted publicly on twitter, it truly amazes me that people will unabashedly post such things for the world to see. Aside from gorilla being an obvious racial slur it is also used in an attempt to dehumanize Serena and insinuate that her actions are irrational and animalistic. This again reinforces a stereotype that black women are overly emotional and therefore should not be taken seriously.
Now it’s quite common for female celebrities have their bodies be the center of attention instead of their actual talent. But a huge controversy surrounding Serena Williams right now is the recent incident at the US Open earlier this fall. In short, during the women’s singles final between Serena Williams and 20 year old Japanese player Naomi Osaka. It ended with Naomi taking the win, winning her her first grand slam and being the first Japanese player to ever win a grand slam. But many people argue if she won because she was truly better than Serena of it she only won because of the feud that occured between Serena and umpire Carlos Ramos that not only got Serena three violations but cost her an entire game.
The Official Point Penalty Schedule used at majors states that a first offense will result in a warning, second offense in a point penalty, and third with a game penalty. It started with a coaching waring which serena believed she didn’t deserve. I’m going to give you both sides. Carlos Ramos saw Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, making hand signals from the players box, he called the warning. Serena, who wasn’t even looking at her coach, didn’t understand why she got the warning and politely told Ramos that I dont cheat to win, I’d rather lose, just letting you know. The second violation, which lost serena a point, was from racket abuse. In this case she got frustrated after double faulting twice and losing the game during the next point so she slammed her racket on the ground and broke it. The thing is, this was, according to the umpire, her second violation and therefore took a point. But Serena knowing that she didn’t get coaching, believed this was her first violation, and didn’t deserve the point being taken. This is when we first see Serena lose her temper. She approaches the umpire fingers pointed demanding an apology, simply stating You owe me an apology, I have never cheated in my life, I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her! I never cheated, and you owe me an apology! She was visibly upset and angry but not even about the point, about the accusation and insinuation of cheating. After once more asking for an apology, and Ramos refusing Serena tells him You stole a point from me, you’re a thief. As Serena is walking away for the next game, Ramos declares another violation, this time for verbal abuse, and because this is her third violation it costs her an entire game. The match continues for one more game and Naomi Osaka wins.
In total Serena was fined $17,000 for that one match. As much as I respect and adore her, I’m not here to preach and say that Serena didn’t earn these violations, she did. The coaching violation is a little questionable but her coach was, in fact, coaching so we can accept this one. She broke her racket. She lost her temper and yelled at the umpire. But regardless of the obvious violation of the rules people have decided to speak out for various reasons, some taking Serena’s side and many siding with the umpire.
For the past couple months a cartoon by Australian cartoonist Mark Knight modeled after this incident has been seen circulating the internet on many different platforms. In this cartoon you see Serena depicted with a very large nose and large lips, features often accentuated to mock black and African American characteristics. She is also drawn with absurdly large breasts to misrepresent her physique. In the cartoon she is very obviously throwing a tantrum, you see her smashed racket and a pacifier next to it with the umpire speaking to Serena’s opponent saying Can you just let her win. Aside from the blatantly racist caricature, there are many other problems with this cartoon. It shows the umpire and her opponent (presumably Carlos Ramos and Naomi Osaka) as thin, white, blonde, and calm. So not only is Serena mocked by her blackness, Ramos (Portuguese) and Osaka (Japanese and Haitian) are white washed to only further encourage the angry black vs calm white rhetoric. The line Can you just let her win also insinuates that Serena’s tantrum was caused by her losing. As explained before Serena was upset because her integrity was questioned, not her ability to play tennis.
Roger Federer even spoke up about the issue, and with him being the number one men’s tennis player in the world, people listened. In an interview with the Sunday Times Federer said that Serena went too far and that her outburst was completely uncalled for (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/exclusive-interview-roger). But the interesting thing about Roger Federer voicing his opinion of Serena Williams is that he has a long history of lashing out throughout the entirety of his tennis career. Numerous video compilations can be found of Federer screaming, smashing rackets, throwing water bottles and towels, and surprise, surprise arguing with umpires. But what you can’t find is any code violations for these actions. At a previous US Open Federer argues with the umpire even going as far as to say Don’t tell me to be quiet, OK? When I want to talk, I talk. I don’t give a shit what he said. Don’t tell me the fucking rules. However, each and every one of Federer’s outbursts were reported as ?uncharacteristic’ by several media outlets, except it happens all the time! But why is this? It’s a classic case of double standard. The many times this happens it gets blown off because this is exactly what is expected of male athletes.
This is where my problem with Serena’s violation comes from, specifically the abuse violation. She lost an entire game for simply calling the umpire a thief but male tennis players, including Roger Federer, get away with much worse for much less of a consequence and usually no consequence at all. For example, Andy Murray kicks a tennis ball at the umpires head, no code violation (https://www.abc.net.au). Jimmy Connors calls the umpire an abortion repeatedly throughout the match, no code violation (https://youtu.be/PlgJtyUIhqM). Andre Agassi calls the umpire a son of a bitch and even spits on him, thankfully the umpire calls for a point violation, but a supervisor ended up revoking it anyway; so ultimately, there was no code violation (https://youtu.be/x298JDtqDpE). These aren’t just coincidences, it’s obvious evidence that Serena is being specifically targeted as a black woman. Her emotions are seen as unreasonable outbursts while these men are praised for things like their soccer skills in Andy Murray’s case.
But this isn’t the only way that Serena has been targeted by the International Tennis Federation. Serena is drug tested significantly more than any other tennis player, especially her opponents. Just this year she has been tested two times more by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) than all other US women’s players, and most men’s p
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