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“Sometimes I wonder if it’s something that I’m doing: did I do something wrong?”
May 30, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Venus Williams, learning to live with a chronic illness. [NYTimes.com] "Singing replaced swinging; karaoke became her way to cope. Williams said this Monday, in a quiet moment at the French Open, inside a windowless room beneath the courts. Since doctors told her she had Sjögren’s syndrome, an incurable autoimmune disease, last year at the United States Open, everything has changed. Williams says she wakes up each morning unsure of how she will feel."
posted by Fizz (31 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Always love reading about the Williams sisters. I really hope she gets to the Olympics. Am not optimistic about the French Open, though; it's always been her toughest surface (as the article states), and she's never won it before.
posted by Melismata at 9:18 AM on May 30, 2012


Those women are in constant pain every day, just some days sorse. It's a similar ordeal to the Bob Ojeda caper posted the other day. World class athletes go through a tough grind.

But Serena's comments after her loss were not helpful. The other woman, #111 or a top-tenner, played better; that's all you need to say -- hardly anybody cares about your excuses.
posted by bukvich at 9:32 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other woman, #111 or a top-tenner, played better; that's all you need to say -- hardly anybody cares about your excuses.

I love the intensity that the Williams Sisters bring to the game, their devotion to the sport, but one thing I've always had an issue with is their attitude towards other people/competitors. I dislike their sportsmanship even though I enjoy their sports ability.
posted by Fizz at 9:35 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a person with an autoimmune disease, I really appreciate the efforts of Phil Mickelson and now Venus Williams to show these diseases as things that suck with serious consequences for our lives, but as things that we can live with. I especially appreciate Mickelson endorsing biologic drugs and saying publicly that "alternative medicine" didn't help him but real medicine did.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Serena is the mean one who lost yesterday [ha ha! hahahaha!] and does not have Sjögren’s syndrome.

Venus is the less abrasive of the two, and the subject of this FPP.
posted by Edogy at 9:44 AM on May 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


She may not have Sjögren’s syndrome, but she did have some scary blood clotting issues last year. They are both definitely in the twilight of their amazing careers.
posted by Melismata at 10:00 AM on May 30, 2012


Someday someone will write an amazing book about the Williams sisters and the Williams family. The racism they faced, their insanely driven father, the aloof mother, the other sisters, the tragedies, the off-the-court projects, the lack of focus, the talent. It's an amazing story. Two sisters who dominated tennis for nearly a decade, and allowed other players to win slams because - well, why? Because they got bored? Who knows. They are a strange and bewildering family, and as a tennis fan, and especially an American tennis fan, they are still an enigma to me, after all these years in the spotlight. Who are they, what do they care about? With the male players, the top players, they are easy to root for. They are either good humans (Federer, Nadal), or competitive athletes with an incredible will to win (the Americans like Sampras and Agassi, Djokovich). With the Williams sisters, it's more difficult. They are so good and yet - they often seem not to care. Venus is by far the easier one to root for, and I definitely do in every tournament she is in. The older sister who paved the way for her younger sister, the one who faced more skepticism, more racism, more ugliness, more pressure for her father. And yet she is the sweet one. The gracious winner, the defeated loser. Serena, on the other hand, is difficult to root for. She is, to use a phrase, a tennis brat. Spoiled, entitled, petulant. Losing is never her fault, she is always better than her opponent, injuries are blamed, conditions are blamed, everything is blamed - yet never do you hear the words, "Today I was beaten by a better player. Congratulations to [___] and I hope she does well in the next round."

But anyway. Venus's illness is scary, and it's unfortunate, because she did have more good tennis in her. And with the weakness of the women's game right now, she always had the chance of getting hot and winning another major. That looks to be out of the picture now. But I'll keep rooting for her, and pushing her on, and maybe just maybe she can squeak out another big victory. (Unfortunately, it looks like she's losing right now.)
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:21 AM on May 30, 2012 [24 favorites]



I love the intensity that the Williams Sisters bring to the game, their devotion to the sport, but one thing I've always had an issue with is their attitude towards other people/competitors. I dislike their sportsmanship even though I enjoy their sports ability.


I was at the US Open last year when Serena threw a fit in the semi's and got docked a point. I don't like her attitude either but then again I didn't like McEnroe's attitude when I was a kid but now of course I look back at his time and have to love the passion. It's interesting to note people's reactions to Serena's attitude - is the fact she's black a factor in how people interpret her tantrums as opposed to how they may interpret McEnroe's?
posted by spicynuts at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


is the fact she's black a factor in how people interpret her tantrums as opposed to how they may interpret McEnroe's?

I call bunk on that. This is something that is continually brought up. To criticize the Williams Sisters poor behaviour and unsportsmanlike conduct is somehow seen as racially charged when in fact it's the opposite. An asshole is an asshole: brown, white, black, or pink.
posted by Fizz at 11:18 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


is the fact she's black a factor in how people interpret her tantrums as opposed to how they may interpret McEnroe's?

In my opinion, no. But then again, you shouldn't ask me, since I don't like Serena. In general, I would say that the discrepancy you mention is more an issue of sex/gender than race. We like bad boy athletes but not bad girls. In particular, though, I would say that you may not remember how people viewed McEnroe's tantrums. Today they are used in commercials and we wink wink nudge nudge at them but back in the day many called him a brat, spoiled, a punk, etc.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to note people's reactions to Serena's attitude - is the fact she's black a factor in how people interpret her tantrums as opposed to how they may interpret McEnroe's?

This is a total derail to the topic of Venus, but . . .

It's tempting to compare the two and impose some kind of racial analysis — but you really can't. McEnroe played in an era when the line judges were less trained and regulated. His beef was legitimate. They frequently made bad calls. When Serena told a line judge she was going to stick a ball up her ass for calling a foot fault there really wasn't much of a precedent for that in any major final.

Serena is a player who has trained to control her emotions and sometimes fails. McEnroe is someone who trained to impose his emotions and sometimes succeeded. No more, no less.
posted by quadog at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2012


Yes that's exactly why I didn't like him when I was a kid. I wasn't saying I knew one way or another, I guess I was throwing it out there as a question. Actually, it's more like I'm asking myself that because I am always disgusted by her behavior.
posted by spicynuts at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2012


told a line judge she was going to stick a ball up her ass for calling a foot fault there really wasn't much of a precedent for that in any major final.


Well, we also have much better and more numerous mics these days. Are we sure we know everything John said to an umpire?
posted by spicynuts at 11:23 AM on May 30, 2012


Today they are used in commercials and we wink wink nudge nudge at them but back in the day many called him a brat, spoiled, a punk, etc.

Andy Roddick is a white male and I absolutely detest his schoolboy antics. He's a spoiled little boy who throws a hissy fit whenever things don't go his way.
posted by Fizz at 11:24 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Of course there's racism in how they are treated; there's racism everywhere, so why should the tennis courts be an exception
posted by MartinWisse at 11:25 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back to Venus . . . I really would have liked to see the two sisters play each other in a major final one last time. There was a point when they were playing each other so frequently that it almost got to be boring. I recall a moment in one final where a crowd member shouted, "Go Miss Williams!". People didn't know who two root for. But that was part of the phenomenon. I hope Venus is able to make one more go of it — but it doesn't sound likely.
posted by quadog at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do think that the game is richer with the sisters being in it. They've done a lot to raise the profile of the sport, especially for females. I can still love their game, even though I dislike their personalities.
posted by Fizz at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2012


The Williams sisters needed a foil (besides each other). Without a serious and consistent opponent to train against, they lost focus, and pursued other interests. They never had it in them to be truly competitive against each other.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:35 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Auto immune can really take "it" out of you -- no energy, lots of aches and pains. I'm amazed Venus Williams is out and playing again so soon after her diagnosis. It's also nice seeing Sjogren's being reported in the news -- it's one of the more common auto immune disorders, but no one has ever heard of it.
posted by backwords at 12:20 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sjogren's has always really scared me. I've had it suggested as a possible diagnosis for me a couple of times and I'm relieved every time the idea gets kicked back.

I know I've become more interested in professional tennis again since I heard about Venus' diagnosis. She may be in the twilight of her career but I'll be rooting for her as long as she keeps playing. As backwords said, it amazes me that she's out there at all.
posted by immlass at 12:20 PM on May 30, 2012


I didn't know she had this. What a tragedy. It is really apparent how the disease has affected her just by comparing the pictures in the article from pictures a few years ago--she's lost a good deal of muscle mass. To go from performing at the level she did to dealing with an autoimmune disorder, geez, it is admirable that she is able to keep going at all, much less keep playing.
posted by schroedinger at 2:33 PM on May 30, 2012


MacEnroe's an ass with an added 'gimmick' of being an ass. I was an umpire for him in veteran's match a few years ago and he pulled the same shit, yelling at umpires who were completely correct but had called against him, then pretending afterwards that it was 'all in fun' or some weak shit like that. I've never been a fan of brat players and he can fuck right off along with all the 14 year olds he 'inspired'.

For similar reasons, I'm not a fan of Serena. Venus though - this is a shame. I would love to read her autobiography, probably written after her father dies.
posted by jacalata at 3:51 PM on May 30, 2012


Favoriting spicynuts a thousand times.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 4:02 PM on May 30, 2012


Holy Cow, I never knew this. Not a fan of either of the williams sisters, or tennis, but man, that is terrible for her. So sad for her. So glad she achieved so much before its onset.

Also, John Mcenro you say? Did you have this in the US in the 80s? Cheesetastic - Chalk Dust.
posted by marienbad at 4:06 PM on May 30, 2012


Serena was not even in the same ballpark as McEnroe as a jerk. He was the kind of guy who would start shit just to start shit and it too frequently happened when his opponent was getting into a comfort zone. It was pretty blatant dishonesty.
posted by bukvich at 4:08 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


When Serena told a line judge she was going to stick a ball up her ass for calling a foot fault there really wasn't much of a precedent for that in any major final.

If a line judge made that call against me for match point in the semifinals of the US Open, I'd still be out there yelling. As John McEnroe said, 'You can't call that there.'
posted by grounded at 4:10 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


And with the weakness of the women's game right now

See, I actually find the women's game tremendously exciting right now; absolutely anyone in the top ten is a legitimate threat to take a slam - plus a few contenders outside the top ten. Matches are far more exciting and dynamic though - yes, I concede - far more inconsistent and subject to how someone's doing on the day.

The men's on the other hand, I mean obvs I love Feds and Rafa, but at the moment - and for quite a while now - there is Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and no one else. I mean, people talk about Murray winning a major, as if. Not with those three playing at the level they are, and forget anyone else in the top ten.

More specifically on the article itself, as someone with an autoimmune disease I think it's great seeing coverage like this. Having a chronic illness - and chronic pain for a long time when I wasn't effectively medicated - it can be a real struggle sometimes, trying to communicate how... taxing it can be, physically and mentally.

Chronic illness and chronic pain I think are tremendously isolating things. You really start to inhabit your own country after a while, with different laws, different customs different demands, different cultures. Out in the real world, the weather may be sunny and it's the weekend. But in your country, it's dark, and cold and you are very tired, and no one understands your language.

On customs: I have a form of colitis, which means I need to watch what I eat all the time, and sometimes very carefully. It wasn't until this was diagnosed that I realised how food is a social substance in addition to sustenance. Refusing offers of food is really awkward. I had no idea how upset and/or offended people would get when you say no to something they are offering. There is a different custom in my country about food, alcohol, and meal times.

Pain in particular is such an internal thing - I'm a solo citizen in my country and I think everyone with a chronic illness is always battling the shadow demons: Is this real? Am I making it up? Is it as bad as I think, or am I just weak, needy, psychologically and morally atrophied? I can only imagine how much stronger those demons would be for an elite athlete, accustomed to pushing through limits. My sympathies to her.
posted by smoke at 4:28 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Am I the only one who worries switching to a vegan diet might actually be the worst choice Venus could have made while struggling with an autoimmune disorder?

Vegetarian, sure, I guess. But can a strict vegan diet really give her all the protein and carbohydrates she needs to keep up the incredible pace required for a professional athlete? Especially one with hopes for (more) gold in the Olympics?

I was heartened by the karaoke machine she travels with, though! Singing sounds like a great coping mechanism to me.
posted by misha at 4:47 PM on May 30, 2012


Vegetarian, sure, I guess. But can a strict vegan diet really give her all the protein and carbohydrates she needs to keep up the incredible pace required for a professional athlete?

Sure. Plants are pretty much made up of carbon, and while protein is a consideration, you can get complete protein from quinoa and soybeans. I bet she has a nutritionist-chef to handle it for her.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:17 PM on May 30, 2012


But can a strict vegan diet really give her all the protein and carbohydrates she needs to keep up the incredible pace required for a professional athlete? Especially one with hopes for (more) gold in the Olympics?

The carbs, yes, but the protein in vegan foods is a hell of a lot less bioavailable and it's probably a factor in the loss of muscle I mentioned earlier.
posted by schroedinger at 6:26 AM on May 31, 2012


Ironically, when first discussing his psoriatic arthritis, Phil Mickelson announced that he was switching to a vegan diet. When he started taking Enbrel to treat his condition, he announced that the vegan diet had done nothing, the drugs were what helped, and that he was back to his regular diet.

I hope that Venus Williams finds something equally effective to treat her Sjogren's.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:48 AM on May 31, 2012


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