Does she get any respect?
January 22, 2015 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Serena Williams, America's greatest athlete (New Yorker)
... But it’s not enough to say that Williams would be more uniformly adored if she were a white woman, or a man. Instead, the failure to fully appreciate her importance is perhaps evidence of our inability to appreciate the stubbornly unfamiliar narrative arc of her career. Williams is underloved because, at times, she has been unlovable and, in the end, mostly unrepentant about it—something that might be admired as iconoclastic in a male athlete, but rarely endears women to a wide audience. ... [T]he great crisis in her public persona came later, in 2009, when she was penalized the final point in her U.S. Open semifinal against Kim Clijsters after berating a line judge over a foot-fault call on the previous serve. Williams is indeed singular: she is likely the only person ever to utter on a professional tennis court, “I swear to God, I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God.” (Of course, John McEnroe said things that weren’t so different, and he is beloved for it.)
Just the other day, she was asked to twirl in front of male reporters during an interview.
posted by Melismata (218 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
"he is beloved for it"

Um, cite? As far as I've ever been able to tell, everyone but everyone thinks McEnroe is a jerk. His total jerkishness was a subject of jokes in pretty much every issue of Mad for a decade.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:35 PM on January 22, 2015 [28 favorites]


I'll back-up FuzzyBastard on this one, McEnroe is widely reviled for his antics.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:37 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


The male tennis pros should make this a teachable moment and start twirling during interviews, or ask interviewers if they'd like them to twirl. It would be kind of like those drawings of male comic book characters posed the way they draw women.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:37 PM on January 22, 2015 [45 favorites]


Related: Williams's father Richard gave a challenging and riveting interview to the CBC this fall while promoting a book about his daughters' upbringing and tennis training. Serena seems to have inherited from her dad an uncompromising attitude. They are not willing to be what other people demand they be. At the same time, they're very human. I like that Serena is into fashion and sometimes loses her temper or doesn't seem to work very hard. It's easier for me to relate to her than to, saaay, Derek Jeter?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:39 PM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I'm 34 and not a tennis fan, but the only thing I know about McEnroe is that he is a giant asshole.

Well, and of course:
I'll serve your ass like John McEnroe
If your girl steps up, I'm smacking the hoe

posted by sideshow at 2:40 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


People hate his personality so much he made a second career out of it!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:48 PM on January 22, 2015 [34 favorites]


McEnroe is indeed beloved for his mouthiness. There have been several commercials riffing off it. It's kind of his thing. Maybe it's because he's put all that behind him and his career is in the past, but people's reaction today is along the lines of "oh, that McEnroe!" Nobody would ever make a commercial making light of Serena's comments to the line judge. That being said, she was way out of line and was rightly penalized for it.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 2:49 PM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


McEnroe "reviled"? Hardly. If he were truly reviled, why would he be raking in the bucks in TV ads and other endorsements? He's one of America's lovable antihero-assholes, just like tons of other dudes who Tell It Like It Is and get rewarded for it.
posted by blucevalo at 2:50 PM on January 22, 2015 [45 favorites]


Mac has been raked over the coals for 30 years for his behavior and he NEVER threatened to physically harm an official on court. Serena is an ugly person. (with a game so good it defies comparison to anyone else of her generation)
posted by Cosine at 2:53 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


he's pretty much hated like denis leary is - some think he's an asshole, but he has no problem finding supporters and raking in the cash over it.
posted by nadawi at 2:54 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love Serena. She is an embodiment of excellence, power, skill, daring, and self-love. One of the greatest American athletes of all time. (That being said, as an older sister I am constitutionally obligated to root for Venus in any Venus vs. Serena match.)
posted by sallybrown at 2:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [24 favorites]


Sideshow: that's Slaine in "99 Bottles," no?
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:57 PM on January 22, 2015


sallybrown: the word you can't put on your list is respect, she has none for anyone.
posted by Cosine at 2:57 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cosine, I think she may have respect for her equals, but she's having a hard time locating them.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:01 PM on January 22, 2015 [48 favorites]


sometimes when i'm having a bad day i just find this gif of her gold medal celebration to lift my spirits. i find her utterly compelling and fierce and human.
posted by nadawi at 3:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


I have a hunch that Williams wouldn't be getting the weird disrespect she does if she were playing 30 years ago. Because a lot her opponents are Slavs. So if the Cold War was still going on, she'd be defending our country's honor with every match. Every victory would be a triumph for Democracy and we'd all love her like the 1980 Olympic hockey team or Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV. And making fun of her butt or muscles would get you branded an un-American asshole.
posted by riruro at 3:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


McEnroe "reviled"? Hardly.

Exactly. John McEnroe is widely reviled as a loud-mouthed jackass; that's why he's never allowed to come on ESPN and call a few sets of the US Open any time he wants to.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:03 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


This ground was much better covered in the recent Bjork post.

There are a lot of issues to talk about regarding the presenter's request of top class female athletes to twirl. That said, an article from a) last year about b) Serena Williams is a pretty lousy way to get that discussion started.

Like what issues? How about both the latest young blonde pretty tennis player and the older black tennis player both being asked to twirl (both of whom work for Nike)? At one of the four biggest tournaments of the year? Where both men and women are paid equal prize money? Where no current tennis player man or woman would dare to comment on Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner, much less wear hoodies or t-shirts on social media or on court?

There are certainly great American athletes today - and many of them use their greatness as a platform. Serena Williams is, if anything, a throwback to the Michael Jordan days and definitions of greatness.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:03 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Actually, as a fan and player of the sport, I find it's most tennis enthusiasts who are suspiciously lacking in respect for one of the sport's greatest players, and one of the tennis world's greatest potential ambassadors. Because she's "rude" or "dresses provocatively" or doesn't mingle correctly in locker rooms or whatever other bullshit people want to pull out when the problem is actually something a little bit...darker. But that's just my opinion, formed from watching the Serena hate play out for the past couple decades.
posted by sallybrown at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [19 favorites]


Hasn't everybody at least heard of Sareena Williams? And isn't she also well-known (among those who know her) for her website written in sparkly pink glittery text and love of dangly earrings, and for generally being icon to little black girls everywhere?

Lots of people appreciate Sareena
Williams. Not everybody needs to be appreciated by everybody.
posted by subdee at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the gap between her skill level and the next best player, multiplied by the number of years she has been dominant, is unparalleled. Jordan is the only one that comes close, IMO.

That said male athletes with rough personalities are not universally loved by any means - I'm thinking of players like Barry Bonds, who even before the steroid revelations was not beloved by the fans outside of SF, as he didn't care about PR, and being personable was not part of his gig. I'd go so far to state that sort of fan / player relationship is pretty common.
posted by MillMan at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bouchard were asked to spin around while being interviewed on court by Channel 7's Ian Cohen.


She responded to that far more graciously than he deserved.


He didn't end up with the business end of a tennis racket embedded sideways in any part of his anatomy, which isn't nice but I admit I am enjoying the image.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


About Serena's supposed lack of respect:
When the ruling was announced, Williams walked around the net to the other end of the court to shake hands with a stunned Clijsters, who did not appear to understand what had happened.
If that's not the epitome of class, I don't know what is. I have quite a temper, and I certainly don't know if I could keep my head and shake my opponent's hand in that situation.
posted by muddgirl at 3:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Also, having heard a lot of the racist dogwhistles that people have used for black female athletes generally and Serena Williams in particular:

Serena is an ugly person.

Even if it's meant to be a criticism of her personality, that rubs me the wrong way.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:08 PM on January 22, 2015 [77 favorites]


The only twirl she should give them is one that ends in a Walker, Texas Ranger kick to the head.
posted by emjaybee at 3:11 PM on January 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


sallybrown: I watch and play a hell of a lot of tennis, the longer I watch tennis the more impressed I am with Serena's talent and the less impressed I am with her. If you want to believe this is simply racism and I hate black folk go ahead, I could never convince you otherwise, it seems odd though to be racist against only one person though. (she is far from the only nasty player currently playing, she is just the nastiest)

muddgirl: You are praising someone for offering to pay for the damage to your car that they deliberately caused with their out of control behaviour, she was not the victim and that was not an isolated incident.
posted by Cosine at 3:13 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are certainly great American athletes today - and many of them use their greatness as a platform.

serena made a bunch of headlines for tweeting directly after the darren wilson grand jury announcement. she's spoken more than a few times about being a black player from compton in a sport dominated by whiteness and wealth. it's weird to cast her as being jordan-esque in these matters.
posted by nadawi at 3:15 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


The reporter should have to play a set against Serena and twirl everytime he loses a point. We can all tweet about his outfit while we watch the livestream.
posted by cmfletcher at 3:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I saw Venus and Serena a couple months ago and loved it, for any documentary, tennis, or Williams sisters enthusiasts out there.
posted by sallybrown at 3:17 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


John McEnroe *was* reviled for being a loudmouthed jerk. He *is* beloved for it. There's the rub.
posted by NedKoppel at 3:19 PM on January 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


muddgirl: You are praising someone for offering to pay for the damage to your car that they deliberately caused with their out of control behaviour, she was not the victim and that was not an isolated incident.

I'm praising Serena for getting her head together and congratulating her opponent on a win caused partially by her own temper, rather than stomping off in a rage (which is what I tend to do). I didn't call her a victim (???), and of course it's not an isolated incident - she's the first to admit that she struggles with her temper. It's called "being a human being."
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on January 22, 2015 [25 favorites]


Serena is an ugly person.

Even if it's meant to be a criticism of her personality, that rubs me the wrong way.


Serena has a habit of telling umpires and linespeople, to their faces, during matches, that they are "ugly people", this is what I was referencing.
posted by Cosine at 3:21 PM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


muddgirl: It's not struggling with your temper to answer "for what?" when asked, post-match, if she thought she should apologize for physically threatening an on-court official.
posted by Cosine at 3:22 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


a habit of telling umpires and linespeople, to their faces, during matches, that they are "ugly people"

Link? Searching turns up zero instances of this ever happening.
posted by sallybrown at 3:25 PM on January 22, 2015


McEnroe "reviled"? Hardly. If he were truly reviled, why would he be raking in the bucks in TV ads and other endorsements?

It's not as if Serena doesn't "rake in the bucks" in TV ads and other endorsements, though. Nor as if she's debarred from a future career in tennis commentary. People aren't arguing that McEnroe was "shunned" or "banished from polite society" for his childish tantrums--but then neither is Serena.

The claim in the piece was that McEnroe was "beloved" for his tantrums. It's just not true. I think it's certainly true that if Serena had habitually behaved as badly as McEnroe she'd be treated considerably more harshly than he was (she'd face a double penalty for behaving in a way that confounds gender norms AND for being a black woman "acting out" in that way), but it's just over egging the custard to claim that a man gets "beloved" for tantrums while a woman gets criticized for it.

If you want a sense of McEnroe's reputation at the time of his playing career, you could do worse than watch this skit by Not the Nine O'Clock News. People saw him as a ghastly, tantrum-throwing spoiled child--albeit one who played astonishing tennis.

The case I would choose, actually, to indicate some of the headwinds Serena has faced in her amazing career is the infamous Justine Henin "hand incident" at the 2003 French Open. I mean, Henin's action was just astonishingly bad sportsmanship and Serena was very understandably upset (and equally understandably upset by the ugly nature of the crowd response). And yet the media coverage of Serena's actions at the time was not just largely negative but mostly ignored the plainly visible, videotaped evidence that Henin was just a lying little scumbag. I think if the same thing had happened to, say, Chris Evert, the other player would have been pretty much hounded out of the game.
posted by yoink at 3:26 PM on January 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I don't care about class. I don't care about yelling. I don't care about race. I'm going to continue with my approach to fandom: enjoying someone's immense skill in their field and not really giving a crap what kind of a person they are (short of them being violent with others).

With respect to the twirl, this seems to be a particularly annoying feature of the Australian Open coverage. Genie Bouchard (in addition to being asked to twirl along with Serena yesterday) was asked last year if she would date Justin Beiber. You know, after she won her first Grand Slam semi-final.
posted by dry white toast at 3:27 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Link? Searching turns up zero instances of this ever happening.

I think Cosine is referring to this:

There was the tirade in 2011 against chair umpire Eva Asderaki in the U.S. Open final against Sam Stosur. Asderaki docked Williams a point for yelling in the middle of play, which prompted the infamous Williams rant: "You're nobody. You're ugly on the inside," and then during a changeover, "We were in America last time I checked."

tbh I am kind of giggling over this, but I have also had a respectful crush on the williams sisters forever
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:28 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


sallbrown: She was fined $2000 for telling the head umpire, to her face, during the Stosur meltdown that the umpire was "just unattractive inside".
posted by Cosine at 3:29 PM on January 22, 2015


So...not a habit, then? One instance that is repeatedly cited as though it says more about her behavior than the other thousands of matches she's played.
posted by sallybrown at 3:31 PM on January 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


muddgirl: It's not struggling with your temper to answer "for what?" when asked, post-match, if she thought she should apologize for physically threatening an on-court official.

Her later apology means absolutely nothing?

Later in this article:
The incident was atypical for Serena, who like sister Venus generally does not argue line calls or otherwise initiate on-court disputes. She pledged she would not allow herself to lose control again.
It appears that she later did one time in 2011. Two outbursts in the entire length of her career is apparently enough to judge her as completely and constantly disrespectful.
posted by muddgirl at 3:32 PM on January 22, 2015 [66 favorites]


Talk about a high standard.
posted by muddgirl at 3:33 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


The "twice as good" rule strikes again.
posted by sallybrown at 3:33 PM on January 22, 2015 [65 favorites]


John McEnroe *was* reviled for being a loudmouthed jerk. He *is* beloved for it. There's the rub.

There's probably a lot of truth in that, but it doesn't really tell us much: Serena is a currently active player, McEnroe isn't. Ali, to take a prominent black example, was reviled for being a "loudmouthed jerk" in his fighting days (and for all kinds of other supposed sins) and now he is beloved for all of them. We'll only know how much of a double standard is in play there is Serena's outbursts continue to be thrown up in her face after she retires.
posted by yoink at 3:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I definitely recall McEnroe being regarded as a bit of a joke back then for his temper. He was definitely famous for it, though, and that kind of fame can be translated into a career in the public eye post-sports. I think all the time that has passed since he was relevant as an athlete has allowed people to look back on him fondly, but at the time I don't think his tantrums were considered endearing or anything like they are now. It's really not unheard of for ex-athletes with bad reputations to get endorsements and TV spots. Just as an example, hockey has had legendary loudmouth assholes like Matt Barnaby, Jeremy Roenick, and Mike Milbury doing commentary during games.
posted by Hoopo at 3:35 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Serena calling people ugly inside may also make her a bit ugly inside, but here's a video of her sister being part of something totes adorbs. So on the balance, the Williams family is probably okay.

Joking aside, she's a competitive athlete who says shitty things while in a competitive situation. Like John McEnroe, who did the same thing in his own career, people probably come away from her antics thinking she's just as much of a jerk.

In 20-odd years, however, people will forget the worst of it, just like they did for Johnny boy, and she'll be a well-paid and well-respected commentator on a sports network. Unless she snaps and shoves a fucking ball down a fucking throat, it will all work out okay for her, like it works out for all the beautiful people in our society. No need for the New Yorker or its well-to-do readers to worry on her behalf.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:37 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was a tennis fan when McEnroe was very, very young -- despite his reputation as a brat, I always thought folks respected his tennis and disregarded his behavior way more than they should (I hated him, because he displaced the other brat, Connors, my hero). The revilement of Serena goes way beyond anything McEnroe ever faced.

Further, the dislike of Serena is too close to dogwhistles: she's ugly, she's disrespectful, she's "nasty", etc.; all of this kind of talk parallels racist tropes, for Black women particularly.
posted by allthinky at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2015 [39 favorites]


There's also the inconvenient fact that McEnroe is actually incredibly good as a commentator. I remember being amazed by that when I first heard him doing the job. He'd always come across as such a little shithead and suddenly here's this thoughtful, engaging and perceptive voice coming over the wires.

One thing I've noticed over the years, though, playing and following sports (not that I do either much anymore) is that sport doesn't really "reveal" a person's character. I've known people who were gentle as lambs in ordinary life who could be utter assholes on the court and vice versa.
posted by yoink at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


i don't think we need to wait for her to retire to realize that women who are known for being "aggressive" are held to a different standard than men and that this is especially a problem in sports. i understand why a nerdy community like mefi nitpicks every example, but it does get a little wearying to always argue over whether an analogy is exactly perfect to convey that there are different standards and expectations of men and women, of white people and people of color (specifically in this instance, black women).
posted by nadawi at 3:39 PM on January 22, 2015 [31 favorites]


As far as I recall, she didn't even lose her temper at the umpire in the infamous US Open match where she was straight up fucked over deliberately with false calls by Mariana Alves. Which suggests it isn't exactly habit for her.
posted by tavella at 3:41 PM on January 22, 2015


Side note: you absolutely do not want to read comments on any Youtube clips of Serena Williams. Jesus Christ, people.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 3:43 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Serena Williams is one of the most accomplished women tennis players the world has ever seen, and she's still going. She's lost her temper a couple of times on court, under immense pressure. Is that despicable or even worthy of criticism? Not in my view. It just shows she's human and an intense player. She's an extraordinary competitor who goes out there to win. Martina Navratilova would also lose her temper on occasion and swear. No one gave her a hard time for it. Plenty of other players get angry win bad calls or what they perceive to be bad calls are made. Look at football/soccer. Soccer players routinely push and pull each other, injuring each other. Do they become reviled? I think it is plain that there is an element of racism and sexism in the criticism that Serena faces, and she knows it. That she would even be compared to McEnroe is ludicrous, and proves the bias against her, as he lost it on the court regularly and was popularly known (and appreciated by many) for being an enfant terrible. Serena has always been gracious against her competitors in victory and defeat. May she play on for a few more years and break Graf's record!
posted by Azaadistani at 3:43 PM on January 22, 2015 [18 favorites]


i don't think we need to wait for her to retire to realize that women who are known for being "aggressive" are held to a different standard than men and that this is especially a problem in sports

I agree; but for that very reason it's kinda stupid to make a patently false claim to float that point.

I mean, you see versions of this every day: "no one cares what male movie stars look like!" "But a male boss can literally shit on an employee's desk and everyone just respects him for being 'tough'" and so on. And, yeah, you can see what drastically more complex and nuanced (and very real) inequality is being indicated--but you also see that by wildly exaggerating what are, in fact, much less stark differences the writer has just given an instant "out" to anyone in the audience who isn't already persuaded of the point they're making: "oh, that's so obviously not true I don't have to pay attention to anything else in their argument."
posted by yoink at 3:45 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Drawing a distinction between Serena's talent and her personality is super, super characteristic of the way that racist sports fans treat black athletes, too.

How much more often do you hear the success of a black athlete being attributed to "talent" or "physical gifts", rather than "work ethic" or "knowledge and respect for the game" or "grit"? On the other hand, white athletes (especially in baseball, which is the main sport I watch) get it all. the. time.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:48 PM on January 22, 2015 [31 favorites]


Among the men, the only top player even remotely close to Serena in today's game in terms of their relative IDGAFness is Djokovic - and he's similarly unloved by just about everyone except his ethnic demographic.

serena made a bunch of headlines for tweeting directly after the darren wilson grand jury announcement. she's spoken more than a few times about being a black player from compton in a sport dominated by whiteness and wealth. it's weird to cast her as being jordan-esque in these matters.

I'd consider tweets table stakes in today's environment. Lebron and Billie Jean King (to pick just two) go out of their way to make statements they don't have to make. Plus - what does Serena actually do for people that aren't her? Say young up-n-coming black players - maybe Sloane Stephens? What about the example she's setting for young players of any sex or skin color during her press conferences after she takes a loss?

Serena has always been gracious against her competitors in victory and defeat

High comedy. Youtube some of her post-loss press conferences and get back to us on that one.

Again - there's plenty of meat around tennis and women and twirling - leading with Serena is basically a derail from the start.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:48 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Again - there's plenty of meat around tennis and women and twirling - leading with Serena is basically a derail from the start.

...Serena Williams isn't a woman in tennis, apparently.
posted by muddgirl at 3:50 PM on January 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


the writer has just given an instant "out" to anyone in the audience who isn't already persuaded of the point they're making

which is why it's frustrating to see the extreme focus on these examples on metafilter. we shouldn't be quibbling over that out.
posted by nadawi at 3:50 PM on January 22, 2015


Martina Navratilova would also lose her temper on occasion and swear. No one gave her a hard time for it.

There again you're letting the warm glow that envelopes the retired icon scrub the actual record. Martina used to be hated (especially before she became a US citizen, and then again after she came out). There was some really vicious anti-Navratilova stuff back in the day.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Vicious homophobic shit as well, iirc?
posted by poffin boffin at 3:54 PM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'd consider tweets table stakes in today's environment.

i referred to more than just tweets in my comment.
posted by nadawi at 3:54 PM on January 22, 2015


NoRelationtoLea: I'm not sure what you've seen, but I don't find her post-match interviews ungracious. She is always honest and may not unnecessarily flatter her opponent, having lost, because in all likelihood, she has lost because of her unforced errors ... because she has played poorly (hence a high number of UNforced as opposed to forced errors).

yoink: Martina was never reviled for losing her temper. She may have been for coming from a Communist country or being "manly" or a "lesbian" ... but those are vile prejudices too. Now, if she'd been a black commie lesbo ... I think she would probably have been denied visas to come and play.

It is pretty screwed up how a woman who has won 18 grand slams is given a tough time for two outbursts in one of the longest and successful careers in tennis history! The two outbursts are a mere footnote among many in her career. Her amazing skill, power, fighting spirit and champion mentality are what should matter in this great sport. It's a sport, not a fucking finishing school.

Moreover, it's a great spectator sport ... who wouldn't--if they were not biased, prejudiced, racist or sexist--appreciate a bit of drama, a show of raw emotion or passion? The mind boggles.
posted by Azaadistani at 4:15 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


My mom is a brown lady, who used to be a pro tennis player.

I grew up watching Serena. She won #1 for the first time when i was 12.

I think she's badass in a like, comic book character cartoon superhero sort of way. The force of her hitting the ball sometimes, especially when she yells, is like something from avatar or a classic kung fu movie. It's like she's hitting the ball with enough force that it would go straight through the wall behind the person(or blow a hole in the racket) like a warner bros cartoon.

I love it.

It appears that she later did one time in 2011. Two outbursts in the entire length of her career is apparently enough to judge her as completely and constantly disrespectful.

Yea, uh, really. I mean i guess i'm biased because my mom gets called a lot of these same things, basically just because she's "intimidating", but this always felt like manufactured outrage or even a smear campaign to me.

Her behavior isn't what's out of line, peoples reactions to it are. Grossly.
posted by emptythought at 4:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [52 favorites]


Also, there's a great article in Vanity Fair from a couple of years ago in which Serena gives her version of what happened at Indian Wells, the crowd's racist response, and why neither she or her sister have ever gone back to play there. Another example of her awesomeness.
posted by Azaadistani at 4:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


The force of her hitting the ball sometimes, especially when she yells, is like something from avatar or a classic kung fu movie.

That's appropriate, given that she has voiced a couple minor characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:20 PM on January 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


Folks interested in the media treatment that Serena Williams receives would probably enjoy -- & feel indignant after reading -- Claudia Rankine's 2014 book of poems named "Citizen." In poems that are part prose-meditation & part running news commentary, Rankine takes the measure of the so-called post-racial U.S. by narrating the fraught quotidian experiences of an unnamed "you," by musing about Hennessy Youngman's YouTube-based "Art Thoughtz," & by giving a play-by-play of the aforementioned "you"'s watching Serena Williams at the '04 U.S. Open -- among other tough matches Williams experienced, won, lost, & "lost." I think Rankine's book is required reading in general -- if I had the funds I'd send one to every address in the nation, give it out in the mail with free samples of Tide, or include one with the Census -- but in the meantime, here's a New Yorker review / precis of Rankine's book. On preview: the anger Williams has shown after or during some matches also receives damn awesome investigation in these poems.
posted by foodbedgospel at 4:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


one of the tennis world's greatest potential ambassadors

The problem is tennis is generally considered a sport for debutantes.
posted by corb at 4:32 PM on January 22, 2015


"The world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful but it all comes from the world to be stored in you."

That is great writing. Thanks for the link foodbedgospel.
posted by clavdivs at 4:38 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cosine, I think she may have respect for her equals, but she's having a hard time locating them.

She has consistently voiced her admiration for Federer and Nadal.
posted by notreally at 4:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


one of the tennis world's greatest potential ambassadors

The problem is tennis is generally considered a sport for debutantes.
posted by corb at 7:32 PM on January 22

Gonna google that but pretty sure it was played more then by mere "debutantes"
posted by clavdivs at 4:42 PM on January 22, 2015


Yeah, historically, "the game of kings."
Corb, if you mean contemporarily, dunno.
posted by clavdivs at 4:48 PM on January 22, 2015


Two outbursts in the entire length of her career is apparently enough to judge her as completely and constantly disrespectful.

I used to be a professional tennis umpire, and the vast, vast, vast majority of players have never in their careers done anything like that - let alone twice. Coincidentally, I have seen two outbursts like that on a court in person - one was a 13 year old girl who lost the match for it, and the other was John McEnroe, who I think is a complete piece of shit (but I don't remember the penalty, if any).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:51 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


...Serena Williams isn't a woman in tennis, apparently.

That's the thing. It's not about being a woman or being black or why skirts/dresses at all or women's tennis, in general - it's about being Serena.

This FPP could easily have been done without any mention of Serena. As of this post, the number of mentions of the player who was originally asked to twirl? 2. And mentions of Serena? 54. That you think Serena is great without reservation and I think she's an asshole and a poor sport and demonstrably the anti-example coaches use when teaching kids how to conduct themselves - all that is completely orthogonal to the story. Which is: why are two of the players most aligned with their marketing image being asked to twirl when legit jocks like Sam Stousur and Petra Kivitova would never be asked to, are probably unknown to 99% of the posters on this thread, and might not even be scheduled on show courts despite being grand slam champions? Women's tennis has some really complex issues to work through and SERENA (as an idea) doesn't allow any of them to breathe.

Want to have discussions about sportspeople of color in predominantly white sports? Before even leaving tennis, you've got incredibly multi-layered stories around Donald Young/the aforementioned Sloane and hype, Taylor Townsend and Zina Garrison and weight, Gael Monfils, Yannick and Joakim Noah and naturalization/identity, etc. - not one of them carries the shit stirring baggage Serena does.

The problem is tennis is generally considered a sport for debutantes.

You mean the debutantes dodging shells in Serbia to practice in abandoned swimming pools that are now at the top of the rankings? Or the ones whose parents blew up their lives to move to new states or even new countries in the search for better competition for their kids (basically most pros)? Tennis at the highest levels is absolutely brutal - in every sense.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:53 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


this post is about serena williams. if you don't want to discuss her maybe there are other posts you'd like more or maybe you can make one of the posts you describe in your comment. complaining that a post about serena williams contains lots of discussion of her is an odd argument.
posted by nadawi at 4:58 PM on January 22, 2015 [25 favorites]


I knew nothing about peoples views of serena Williams before this thread but I am totally not at all surprised that the famous female black star is hated.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:03 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Did Serena actually do a twirl? I can't seem to find the video, and the comments could be read either way. The news here (Canadian) is all about Bouchard's twirl (and is not favourable to the interviewer), and I thought, hell, I'd like to see him try that shit with Serena, because I doubt she'd be very accommodating (and rightly so). I'd hope she would answer back something like, "you first", at the very least. I'd be very disappointed to hear she actually agreed, and I'm somewhat miffed that Bouchard did (although she's younger, less confident at this point, but still... she's a pro and near the top of her occupation).

I hope someone has taken that interviewer aside and explained a few things to him, starting with the fact he's never allowed on a pro tennis court again.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:09 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, historically, "the game of kings."
Corb, if you mean contemporarily, dunno.


A little of both. I mean, played historically by aristos, played for the pleasure of aristos, then played at every country club as the Socially Approved Sport. I'm not saying the sport is for those people, I'm saying that's the perception of it - that tennis goes along with cucumber sandwiches and High Tea.
posted by corb at 5:11 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


this post is about serena williams. if you don't want to discuss her maybe there are other posts you'd like more or maybe you can make one of the posts you describe in your comment. complaining that a post about serena williams contains lots of discussion of her is an odd argument.

This post exists because something weird happened first to another player this week at the Australian Open. That it also happened to Serena, and that that's then used to go dig up a story about her from last year is what's odd. It'd be like hey - this twirl thing happened to Bouchard and oh by the way, here's the story from last year about how she traded tweets with Justin Bieber - Canadians, amirite? That'd be very odd - just like the way this post is framed.

Serena is old news, but reliable in terms of generating comments, controversy, and page views. The twirling thing (independent of player) is the news. And it's completely lost by virtue of an old, single link New Yorker article about the only player casual fans seem to know anything about.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:14 PM on January 22, 2015




if you don't like how posts are constructed that seems like a complaint for metatalk or the mods or fiamo...
posted by nadawi at 5:18 PM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'd be very disappointed to hear she actually agreed, and I'm somewhat miffed that Bouchard did (although she's younger, less confident at this point, but still... she's a pro and near the top of her occupation).

Why? It's not either of their jobs to necessarily be public defenders of your own personal view of feminism or what a tennis pro should act like or whatever. I mean, I'm "miffed" Bouchard did in the sense that I feel bad for her because she clearly felt uncomfortable, but what the hell? This is a very messed up attitude to take that isn't much better than the jerk asking them to twirl in the first place.

Also, Serena Williams, in addition to being the greatest living athlete in the world (come at me, haters!), despite her reputation actually has always seemed to me like a fairly hilarious, cheerful, and self-possessed person, who might just twirl because she damn well felt like twirling at the moment she was asked. Again, despite her reputation, she doesn't seem to take herself all that seriously. She takes competition seriously, but that's about it, which is actually a very refreshing quality in an athelete. It's really telling when she's discussed as if she's some angry, nasty, self-important blowhard, when she's really very charming.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 5:19 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


"I don’t think and look that deep into it. Life is far too short to focus on that. We have so many other problems we want to deal with that we should focus on. Whether I twirl or not, it’s not the end of the world. It’s about being positive and just moving forward."
posted by clavdivs at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


^ from second link.
Nothing new?
posted by clavdivs at 5:23 PM on January 22, 2015


Serena is old news,

What the fuck are you talking about? She's currently the number one ranked women's tennis player in the world.
posted by Atom Eyes at 5:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [23 favorites]


Racism and sexism certainly play a large role in relation to Serena. However, I can't help feel there's an awful lot of certainty in this thread coming from people that don't know very much about tennis, certainly don't watch it regularly and for years, and are unable or unwilling to contextualise this, because there is context, and a lot of it.

I feel a bit like some people at shouting down anyone with a different perspective on this, and I don't think it's really very cool.

Serena is a bad sport. There is no denying this if you participate in tennis. She is known as a bad sport by multiple people on the circuit, of every gender and hue. Ask Sloane Stephens what she thinks of her idol after Serena's shitty interactions with her. Follow her twitter during the tournament year to see her passive aggressive swipes at people. Watch a bunch of her press conferences where she's last and will say anything except a positive thing about the player that just beat her. Watch her at end changes or handshakes with a player she didn't like.

However, she is also, arguably the greatest womens tennis player of all time, who hadsleft a legion of other champions on her wake. She has been pilloried for her race, her gender, her faith in the most disgusting ways.

But these two things are not always connected. There is room for nuance here, and I would love to see people engaging a bit more charitably. You can not especially care for Serena and not be racist, sexist etc in doing so.
posted by smoke at 5:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Serena is old news, but reliable in terms of generating comments, controversy, and page views.

She doesn't exactly do that all by herself.
posted by BibiRose at 5:32 PM on January 22, 2015


Monica Seles ruined women's tennis for me. I can't watch it anymore, because of the hyperbolic grunting. I used to love watching, but just can't anymore. That said, reading a comment about Serena not respecting anyone else triggered my dogwhistle response...

Is she the greatest American athlete? I dunno, but she's a dominant force on the tennis court.
posted by Chuffy at 5:35 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can not especially care for Serena and not be racist, sexist etc in doing so.

It would help, I think, if people could talk about those shortcomings without using one terrible dogwhistle after another.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm a very long term fan of tennis, and long term fan of Serena's. I think her outburst at the line judge was awful. But it was not enough to stop me being a fan. What did stop me watching tennis on TV for a while was a nasty combination of bad line calls and bad sportsmanship by Justine Henin that came to a head, for me, during one match. I turned off the TV, and stopped watching tennis for about two years. This kind of reaction is a very personal thing and I am prepared to believe that people take against Serena Williams for this incident or that-- the way people do a lot with sports figures-- without being racist or sexist. It's just hard to tell though. The Williamses have been getting shit from the time they started out and I am absolutely sure a lot of that is to do with race.
posted by BibiRose at 5:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Serena is awesome. Brash, strong, driven, confident, and the best women's player of all time. She makes me proud to be an American.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:42 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Monica Seles ruined women's tennis for me. I can't watch it anymore, because of the hyperbolic grunting.

so do you just avoid djokovic and nadal matches all together? people act as if only women grunt but it's not even close to true.
posted by nadawi at 5:54 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is a very messed up attitude to take that isn't much better than the jerk asking them to twirl in the first place.

Sorry, what? My attitude is messed up because I don't think a tennis player should be asked to "twirl" on command? What part of tennis involves twirling? Outside of a sport like figure skating, where there is an artistic component, asking any athlete to twirl is pathetic.

And I love the idea that you consider wanting athletes to be treated as athletes is barely a step above being a jerk.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:57 PM on January 22, 2015


A little of both. I mean, played historically by aristos, played for the pleasure of aristos, then played at every country club as the Socially Approved Sport. I'm not saying the sport is for those people, I'm saying that's the perception of it - that tennis goes along with cucumber sandwiches and High Tea.

Yo, Venus and Serena literally came out of Compton and learned on public courts.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 5:57 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


that's the point corb is making, isn't it? that serena isn't the ambassador she should be because she doesn't fit the perception of the sport.
posted by nadawi at 6:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've known people who were gentle as lambs in ordinary life who could be utter assholes on the court

that's the reveal, how under performance stress and competition, one's true and underlying characteristics are displayed.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:01 PM on January 22, 2015


Sorry, what? My attitude is messed up because I don't think a tennis player should be asked to "twirl" on command? What part of tennis involves twirling? Outside of a sport like figure skating, where there is an artistic component, asking any athlete to twirl is pathetic.

I think it's messed up that you'd be mad at them for twirling. Your comment might just have been poorly worded and not intended to convey that, but that was clearly what you were implying: "I'd be disappointed to hear that she actually agreed" is implying that she has some kind of obligation not to that you can be "disappointed" in her not living up to, especially since you go on to make up "excuses" for Bouchard doing the same behavior you're ready to hypothetically condemn Williams for: she's young, etc. If you only hold the reporter culpable, great, we both agree he's a jerk, but that's not how your comment comes across even remotely.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 6:03 PM on January 22, 2015


I'm finding it seriously unpleasant to read some of the comments in here about Serena Williams.

No friggin' doubt.

It's hard not to believe that both her race and the fact that she doesn't perform femininity in an acceptable way she gets treated. See also: Beyonce, Michelle Obama, Oprah.

Compare any of those women to a white counterpart at their level and in their fields, and notice how much more scrutiny, negative feedback, and sneering dismissal the black women receive.

Having spent the majority of my life seeing the disdain with which black women are treated (when they aren't being straight up ignored) even by men who otherwise flash their feminist credentials at every opportunity, I'm pretty sure that given her accomplishments, if Serena Williams were less muscular, blonde, and white, and "nicer" according to that standard of niceness men hold women to, she would be #1, by a mile, on the female athlete earnings list instead of #3. (link goes to slideshow: the 2 ahead of her are Maria Sharapova and Li Na, both of whom rake in more endorsement money than she does by a substantial margin.)
posted by lord_wolf at 6:25 PM on January 22, 2015 [20 favorites]


The male tennis pros should make this a teachable moment and start twirling during interviews, or ask interviewers if they'd like them to twirl.

Well I'd like to see that but I'm shallow and biased.

Serena Williams behaves not one iota differently than any male player of any sport in the universe ever. She is dedicated to her sport, she is passionate about it, and occasionally her mouth gets the best of her.

There are very, very few male players to whom 'occasionally' is applicable.

She's one of the top--maybe--five on the planet in what she does. If she were white, or white and male, her 'outbursts' would raise nary an eyebrow.

I'm not a huge tennis follower but any time I happen to run across her or her sister doing what they do I am entranced because they are so. fucking. good. at what they do.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:39 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Tennis is the only non-Olympic sport where the women's game is more popular than the men's, in terms of comparative popular attention. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova outdraw the entire top 10 men's players in terms of endorsements.

Prize money, though? Hah.

So yeah. Twirling. Kinda illustrates everything in one word.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:47 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I watched and played a lot of tennis as a teenager and remember how badly Jimmy Connors, McEnroe and Ilie "Nasty" Nastase were viewed for their peevish, ill-mannered ways.

All of them, particularly McEnroe, were great players, but they were leagues below men like Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe and John Newcombe, who had been dominant players, known for their sportsmanship, in the public's and media's estimation.

While the more-boorish players always had their legion of fans who liked them as much for their bird-flipping ways as for their tennis, the class and, again, sportsmanship of the older guard set them apart and above.

I haven't watched much tennis in a while, and I recognize that there are complex issues regarding the Williams sisters. But race--and I point to Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson as examples of excellence during much-less-enlightened times--can often be secondary when the players are perceived as being classy and sports(wo)manlike.

I myself have a hard time separating the person from the player at the end of the day, be they musician, actor or athlete. What I've read about Serena and her unsportsmanlike attitude leads me to believe that race and gender are not the only things to consider when discussing her lack of appeal or "adoration" in certain quarters.
posted by the sobsister at 6:49 PM on January 22, 2015


Having spent the majority of my life seeing the disdain with which black women are treated (when they aren't being straight up ignored) even by men who otherwise flash their feminist credentials at every opportunity, I'm pretty sure that given her accomplishments, if Serena Williams were less muscular, blonde, and white, and "nicer" according to that standard of niceness men hold women to, she would be #1, by a mile, on the female athlete earnings list instead of #3. (link goes to slideshow: the 2 ahead of her are Maria Sharapova and Li Na, both of whom rake in more endorsement money than she does by a substantial margin.)

I don't know that Williams would necessarily make more endorsement money than Li Na if she was a nice blonde white lady, actually. I think that's down more to Li Na being marketable to the Chinese market in a way that no non-Chinese athlete ever could be. I don't think it's racist for Chinese people to have a preference for Chinese athletes, and that market is just staggering huge. There might even be a similar dynamic going on with Sharapova, although that's obviously more complex situation since a lot of her endorsements are with American, EU, etc companies and aimed at those markets. Still, I bet a lot of her endorsements are Russia-focused, and wouldn't necessarily be available to a non-national.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 6:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Serena is a bad sport. There is no denying this if you participate in tennis. She is known as a bad sport by multiple people on the circuit, of every gender and hue. Ask Sloane Stephens what she thinks of her idol after Serena's shitty interactions with her. Follow her twitter during the tournament year to see her passive aggressive swipes at people. Watch a bunch of her press conferences where she's last and will say anything except a positive thing about the player that just beat her. Watch her at end changes or handshakes with a player she didn't like.

I think it would be great if anyone in the thread who feels that Serena is a poor sport could cite some specific examples for those of who don't have the inside baseball. There must be some video evidence. In this press conference from last year she seems to have many compliments for Sabine Lisicki. After a loss to Angelique Kerber, she isn't asked much about her opponent but says that Kerber played well and has played well throughout the tournament. Her opponent in this match "didn't make too many errors," "was really going for her shots" and "played really well today." If she is really as churlish as you claim, there must be evidence beyond the 2009 tirade, right?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:56 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Snarl: This is a minor example for sure but one that comes to mind is during a pre-match interview Serena (who was playing Stosur), when asked about Stosur's strengths noted "I think she frames the ball really well", framing the ball isn't a good thing, it's hitting the ball with your racquet frame by mistake, something Stosur has struggled with.

I was taken aback by the cattiness of the comment, as was commentator Mary Carillo, I don't remember exactly what Mary said at the time but she was not at all impressed. (This wasn't the time Carillo called Serena an ass-clown though, that was a different time, lol)
posted by Cosine at 7:24 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm finding it seriously unpleasant to read some of the comments in here about Serena Williams.

Me too. They're kinda gross.

Let me alleviate that a little bit. I love Serena unreservedly. She's incredibly talented, self-assured, and just really fun to watch. She often seems to be made of springs.

The guy that asked her to twirl? Did he not see those biceps? She could have folded him in half!
posted by MissySedai at 7:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


that's the point corb is making, isn't it? that serena isn't the ambassador she should be because she doesn't fit the perception of the sport.

Yeah, basically. Serena plays it like a knock-down drag-out sport. Which frankly is pretty exciting! If there were more Serenas, I'd watch more tennis! But it's not what some people are looking for in their tennis.
posted by corb at 7:37 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Venus Williams is my favorite tennis player, for lots of reasons. Serena, is not. I'm sure that makes me a something!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:12 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tune into Metatalk to find out! ;)
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:19 PM on January 22, 2015


Seeing the mention of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe up above is really strikingly depressing, given that both are dead and that they are literally the only two black tennis players before Serena that anyone can readily name. It cannot be overstated at all how significant the presence--and perhaps more importantly, the longevity--of Venus and Serena has been to the sport. (I still remember when they were doing silly charity tournaments at age 12ish and people were complaining about their hair. Their hair!)

Also, I find it kind of disingenous to compare the behaviour of Serena versus Gibson or even Ashe. Come on: Gibson was born in 1927. There is a world of difference between how women were raised to "behave" between then and Serena's generation--to say nothing of a long-running debate in the African American community about the performance of respectability (and often a certain kind of stoicism) as a component of the fight for equality. (Side note: The Root recently had an interesting article about the role of fashion and class-consciousness in Selma...)
posted by TwoStride at 8:27 PM on January 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


Also a sidenote: while following links about the "twirling incident," I came across this article that begins with British female tennis players and the "taboo" of discussing playing while menstruating. In particular, Wimbledon is a nightmare. Funny how that had never occurred to me before but it would totally be my nightmare, too.
posted by TwoStride at 8:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyone mentioned when she threatened to shove balls down the throat of some random kid helper outer?
posted by tarvuz at 9:01 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


So yeah. Twirling. Kinda illustrates everything in one word.
posted by Cool Papa Bell
👋
also see, "pirouette".


>Anyone mentioned when she threatened to shove balls down the

Have a link to the random kidhelperoutter incident.

Kirk Gibson once gave me the finger but hey, it was Kirk Gibson.

At 12, Mickey Stanley said I couldn't pitch for shit but had a good field arm, had a good hook slide, good blunter too. He was right.
posted by clavdivs at 9:17 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Minor point, not in disagreement with arguments about racism or sexism:

I don't follow tennis, so I've never heard of her, but given the author's premise that she has been an asshole and McEnroe has been a similar asshole and McEnroe has been given a pass, I don't understand how the author arrives at the conclusion that "Williams is underloved" instead of the more obvious "McEnroe is overloved". That's like saying "Woody Allen is a sex abuser and is beloved. The guy down the street is also a sex abuser, and people hate him. The problem is that the guy down the street is underloved."
posted by Bugbread at 9:19 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


i'm sure you could find a more inflammatory example but it'd probably have to involve nazis.
posted by nadawi at 9:35 PM on January 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


I don't really get the fuss.

I think it should be noted that it is the start of a new tennis season and there is excitement in the air about the players' new looks. It's therefore not all that strange that an interviewer would make reference to a player's outfit, and Serena DOES twirl on court in a waving gesture after pretty much every win.

Genie Bouchard has said that Serena's outfit is her favorite one at the Australian Open. It's fun and vibrant.
posted by mantecol at 9:35 PM on January 22, 2015


Bugbread: To me there is a key difference between Serena's actions and the actions of other "brats" in tennis or any other sport. Serena threatened physical violence against an official on camera, on court, during a match.

I cannot think of another occasion in any sport where this has happened, ever. In any other sport with decent officiating there would be EXTREMELY serious repercussions for doing so.
posted by Cosine at 9:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I cannot think of another occasion in any sport where this has happened, ever.

Try every single football game.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:43 PM on January 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


mrgrimm: Not a chance, unless you mean soccer/football, if so that is the other sport I also considered, and if soccer is the bar by which your officiating and corruption are measured...
posted by Cosine at 9:44 PM on January 22, 2015


nadawi: "i'm sure you could find a more inflammatory example but it'd probably have to involve nazis."

Hard to do. Not a lot of examples of "overloved Hitler".

But if you think the argument is bad because the example is inflammatory, let's go the other way:

That's like saying that if "Bobby hid Timmy's crayons, and the other kids in the class thought that was mean. Ralph hid Tommy's crayons, and the other kids in the class thought that was really funny. The problem is that Bobby is underloved".
posted by Bugbread at 9:48 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


i'm just suggesting that throwing child rape into the conversation as a tossed off example is a pretty jerky move and wholly unnecessary.
posted by nadawi at 9:51 PM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


re: physical violence. are you talking about "I swear to God I'll fucking take the ball and shove it down your fucking throat."?

to think that is a real threat is laughable. how many people ever have been injured by someone shoving a fucking tennis ball down their fucking throats? ZERO. i would say laughable "threats" like those are made in american and world football all the time (usually sotto voce, of course).

it was in very poor taste, but if you think it's a threat of phyiscal violence, i disagree.

or what was the other threat of physical violence that I missed?

Also, John McEnroe is my favorite tennis player ever. I was sure we wouldn't see any female better than Martina, but Serena did it. No contest.

It's a fair argument to call her the best athlete of our generation. It's possible to argue that tennis is the most challenging and equitable sport.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:52 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean how many people actually follow through and actually beat the literal shit out of their victims.
posted by Ferreous at 9:59 PM on January 22, 2015


The NBA's Rasheed Wallace was suspended 7 games for allegedly threatening a ref... and that's largely a very minor footnote about his career (which lasted several more years and included a championship).

Seriously: professional athletes verbally abuse the officials ALL THE TIME. It's just that most other sports are too noisy for you to hear it. You cannot seriously think that Serena's 2009 incident is the only time such a thing has ever occurred.
posted by TwoStride at 10:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


nadawi: "i'm just suggesting that throwing child rape into the conversation as a tossed off example is a pretty jerky move and wholly unnecessary."

I needed an example of "bad behavior X that is forgiven for famous white men but not forgiven for POC women". I'm not sure why picking that example was jerky, and I picked it because I thought it would help succinctly convey what I was trying to convey. Perhaps I was wrong.

Honest request here: Can you give me an example of maybe a better example I could have used of a well-known incident of a famous white guy doing something which pretty much everyone, MeFites and non-Mefites alike, would agree is a bad thing, but despite which doing the white guy in question is still beloved?
posted by Bugbread at 10:02 PM on January 22, 2015


Bugbread, the example was jerky because there's a world of difference between "bad behaviour" and criminal activity, which is what your first analogy brought up.
posted by TwoStride at 10:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


if the only universally bad thing you can think of is raping kids i'm not sure what to tell you. fuck it, i'm done with this thread. have fun, y'all.
posted by nadawi at 10:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have a hunch that Williams wouldn't be getting the weird disrespect she does if she were playing 30 years ago. Because a lot her opponents are Slavs

If Serena was playing 30 years ago she would no longer be tennis's "greatest athlete" because her Slav opponents would be just as audaciously and illicitly juiced up as she is.

We might as well just authorize special anything-goes sports leagues with doped-up super-athletes, where limbs routinely crack in half, and everybody else dies from a heart attack by 35. Why not get it over with and embrace our Stephen Kingish Marvel Superhero Hunger Games sportsfuture already?
posted by dgaicun at 10:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay. I'll give it one more try. Let's take this from the top, and pretend I never made those other analogies upthread. So, starting from scratch:

I don't follow tennis, so I've never heard of her, but given the author's premise that she has been an asshole and McEnroe has been a similar asshole and McEnroe has been given a pass, I don't understand how the author arrives at the conclusion that "Williams is underloved" instead of the more obvious "McEnroe is overloved".That's like saying "Burning plastic pollutes the air, and people say it's no good. Driving cars also pollutes the air, but people love driving. The problem is that burning plastic is underloved."

If there are still problems with that example, MeMail me and we can continue outside of the thread.
posted by Bugbread at 10:24 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tennis is the only non-Olympic sport where the women's game is more popular than the men's, in terms of comparative popular attention. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova outdraw the entire top 10 men's players in terms of endorsements.

Prize money, though? Hah.


This comment is amazing in that there are three sentences here - and literally every single one is easily refuted via the first page of google searches. Men's tennis consistently has higher ratings, Roger Federer alone regularly makes ~70M USD annually in endorsements, and there is no sport with less prize money disparity than tennis. Again - the Australian Open pays equally.

I feel a bit like some people at shouting down anyone with a different perspective on this, and I don't think it's really very cool.

Welcome to Metafilter - which does an incredibly crappy job dealing with the fact that some icons aligned with typical MeFi political positions are, in fact, complete and total jerks. You know who else in tennis are jerks and poor sports? Maria Sharapova. Novak Djokovic. Jeff Tarango. Jimmy Connors. John MacEnroe (with Serena, one of very few players ever defaulted due to behavior - 1990 Australian, as I recall). Gasp - those are all white people!

But really - how bad a sport is Serena, exactly? Google "serena williams sportsmanship" - first 5 hits:

1) http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/10/serena-williams-sportsmanlike-jelena-jankovic

2) http://www.si.com/tennis/beyond-baseline/2013/10/28/serena-williams-jelena-jankovic-li-na-wta-championships

3) http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/time-serena-williams-bad-behavior-article-1.958914

4) http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/story?id=100522

5) http://atlantablackstar.com/2013/05/07/sloane-stephens-exposes-serena-williams-as-a-poor-sport-and-mentor/

Let's go the other way - here's the list winners of the WTA sportsmanship award: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WTA_Awards#Karen_Krantzcke_Sportsmanship_Award - Serena has won that zero times. Maybe that's just because players don't like voting for whomever's on top? Here's the ATP sportsmanship winners: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATP_World_Tour_Awards#Stefan_Edberg_Sportsmanship_Award - Roger Federer has won the award 10 out of the last 11 years while kicking the shit out of everyone. The guy to steal one during that run? Rafa Nadal - also a beast and by all accounts also one of the most decent sports stars out there.

You can not especially care for Serena and not be racist, sexist etc in doing so.

No way. That's unpossible.

I also like how y'all need to go to football, which is literally facing an existential threat at the grassroots level due to its culture of violence and head injury to contextualize Serena's threats of physical violence as "just part of the game." Um, tennis is not football. Rec players conducting themselves as Serena has have literally been banned from the national tennis league for YEARS.

The Jordan comparison is more than apt. Both he and Serena are psychopaths. As a Bulls fan, of course I enjoyed those championships, but everyone in the city knew Michael Jordan was a Grade A asshole. Why is it not possible for Serena to be similarly great athletically, and also similarly flawed?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:38 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


If only we had some sort of system to provide links to external websites...
posted by biffa at 12:01 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thank god the tennis finishes up down here soon and I can go back to having nothing to do with it.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:18 AM on January 23, 2015


NoRelationToLea: "The Jordan comparison is more than apt. Both he and Serena are psychopaths."

"Psychopath" is pretty loaded. "Ill-tempered to the point of being ready to threaten or harass others in public" is more precise. "Assholish" probably works best.

And you know what?

Ian Cohen is himself an asshole for asking a grown human woman to "give us a twirl." We apparently put up with athlete assholes like Michael Jordan and Serena Willams who yell at people. That's fine. And in a weird way it's sort of nice, actually, to see women who are assholes succeeding in sport the way male assholes have lo these many years. Not exactly the ideal, of course - the ideal being an end to assholishness in general - but at least it's a stab at equity.

But this Ian Cohen asshole - why exactly does he still have a job? Cosine - is this "give us a twirl" nonsense actually accepted by you tennis people? If so, how?

It becomes hard to disagree with corb's astute observation that women's tennis often seems to want debutantes instead of athletes. Nobody balked when Ian Cohen urged these women to display themselves for his pleasure, after all. Everybody cheered. A rather embarrassing moment, I would think.

But by all means, let's talk about how Serena Williams is an asshole.
posted by koeselitz at 1:09 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Serena is a bad sport.

This if of course one of the most moronic, privilige blind things anyone can say about a professional sportsperson, where millions are on the line if they win or lose. Sportsmanship (sic) is for amateurs, not professionals and oddly enough really, truly cannot be discoupled from race, gender and class, especially in privilege soaked tennis.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:09 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


MartinWisse: "Sportsmanship (sic) is for amateurs, not professionals"

But there are professional athletes who exhibit sportsmanship. How does that happen? Are they just doing sports wrong?
posted by Bugbread at 2:13 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Serena is a bad sport.

This if of course one of the most moronic, privilige blind things anyone can say about a professional sportsperson, where millions are on the line if they win or lose. Sportsmanship (sic) is for amateurs, not professionals and oddly enough really, truly cannot be discoupled from race, gender and class, especially in privilege soaked tennis.


Nuts. An expectation of respect for other competitors is a completely reasonable thing to expect from any professional athlete.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:22 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nobody balked when Ian Cohen urged..

Hi Australian here, huge tennis fan. There has been a large uproar about it, both here and internationally, as even the most cursory googling would show you. Again, if you don't follow the game I would urge some circumspection around strongly worded claims.

Martin, that is a rude comment that is calling me an asshole in all but name. My comment and I both deserve better. Feel free to apologise and rephrase. And learn a thing or two about tennis.

Amazing how many people here are eliding the other black players, not just American but from all over : tennis is an international game.
posted by smoke at 3:04 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love how a couple small incidents of "disrespect" are being held up to paint a picture of some general spoiled bad attitude here.

I realize this thread is just doing donuts in a monster truck over the same ground, but are tennis players somehow held to a higher standard? There are so many other professional athletes, especially male athletes, who are considered awesome and wall-poster material whose entire public personal is being cocky as fuck, or even generally a "bad sport".

An "expectation of respect" would maybe be a good thing if that expectation was actually applied equally. I agree football was a bad example, but you can look at everything from soccer to formula 1 and find similar attitudes in people who are widely respected, and if called bad sports, only barely in passing and it sort of fades in to "boys will be boys" or whatever.

i'm also really amazed that this somehow made it to the point of the whole child molester thing and all that. there really isn't a great case being made here for the "but it has NOTHING to do with her being a confident/cocky black woman". I mean if the analogies are going that deep down the bad shit tree, this must be really tugging at something way inside of people. like damn.
posted by emptythought at 3:07 AM on January 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


Additionally, Martin, millions of dollars in sponsorships are on the line for players. Much more than prize money. On court attitude has just as much financial consideration, but I guess you know all about tennis and sports.
posted by smoke at 3:08 AM on January 23, 2015


If you only hold the reporter culpable, great, we both agree he's a jerk, but that's not how your comment comes across even remotely.

Well then, let me be clear: I ONLY hold the reporter culpable. Would he come out to an NFL game and ask the winning quarterback to don a clown costume and prance around the end zone? Does he go to the World Cup games and ask the players to juggle flaming swords? Not a chance, because I bet he respects those players.

And yes, I'm disappointed in the women who agreed to this crap, too. In Bouchard's case I saw the video, and you can plainly see she looks incredibly uncomfortable about it, but gives in to what amounts to the bullying of the interviewer who put her in an incredibly awkward situation (not only asking, but asking in a very public way to increase the obligation on her to perform for his amusement). Should she have done it? Not if she didn't want to, and it's plain from her expression that she didn't want to.

As for Serena, I haven't seen how she reacted, but knowing she's a veteran, someone who has earned her place at the very top of her profession, someone who truly can be considered the best of the best, she doesn't have to put up with that shit. She does have a higher standard of conduct, because she's achieved a higher level. Is she obligated to act to that standard? Hell no. She's not obliged to do a damned thing I want... that's the point. If she agreed, willingly or unwillingly, that doesn't change my opinion of her. It was a missed opportunity to correct some very troubling behaviour (again, by the interviewer alone), and for that I'm disappointed.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:53 AM on January 23, 2015


emptythought: "i'm also really amazed that this somehow made it to the point of the whole child molester thing and all that. there really isn't a great case being made here for the "but it has NOTHING to do with her being a confident/cocky black woman"."

Hi, person who used the child molester analogy here. The reason that I'm not making a great case for "it has NOTHING to do with her being a confident/cocky black woman" is because I'm saying "it has EVERYTHING to do with her being a black woman". I was arguing that McEnroe is getting a pass for shittiness because of white male privilege, and she's not being extended the same pass that McEnroe got because she's neither white nor male. So if you think "the analogies are going that deep down the bad shit tree, this must be really tugging at something way inside of people", then, yeah, the fact that white males get away with shitty behavior if they're rich and famous enough is something that's tugging at something way inside me.
posted by Bugbread at 5:14 AM on January 23, 2015


Defining "being a bad sport" is, of course, a moving target that only ever seems to really apply to some.

On the one hand, people seem to univerally feel that Federer is all class: and yet here is a post about his "cattiness" which both acknowledges that he's won the profession's sportsmanship award a bunch of times and also offers evidence that's as "damning" as the complaint upthread that Serena is "catty" (Cosine's word) for making a "frames the ball" comment about an opponent once. And no one seriously makes these huge generalizations about Federer's poor character or unacceptable conduct on the court (or that of Andy Murray, who has often been an asshole and who has cried and walked off when losing and is almost always excused for it because of the pressure of trying to be the first good Scottish/British (whole other can of worms) player in forever). Note how the SI article is all, "eh, Federer used to be a hothead" and it's pretty admiring of this fact.
posted by TwoStride at 5:19 AM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ali, to take a prominent black example, was reviled for being a "loudmouthed jerk" in his fighting days (and for all kinds of other supposed sins) and now he is beloved for all of them.

Ali is not beloved for all of his talk. His anti-war views have been pretty much air-brushed out and they now routinely present him in stadiums alongside displays of American hypermilitary prowess. I'd bet a lot of people don't even know about the anti-war sacrifices he made.
posted by srboisvert at 5:20 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just something to consider - all athletes are not standing on the same plane when it comes to reacting to competitors, officials, and spectators. Roger Federer does not have to deal with someone shouting the N-word at him from the stands or commentators asking him to twirl, for example. I'm actually surprised no one has brought Venus up as a counterpoint to Serena, because Venus has a near-superhuman control of her emotions and reactions. But I don't think it's reasonable to demand this level of control from human beings at the top of their profession who are treated with prejudice, disrespect, and outright hate from some corners.
posted by sallybrown at 6:31 AM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


for generally being icon to little black girls everywhere?

And hey, maybe one day we'll advance to the twentieth century and she can be an icon for all kids, no matter what color their skin is. We can only hope. (Slight on us the society, not the commenter).
posted by joycehealy at 6:59 AM on January 23, 2015



I realize this thread is just doing donuts in a monster truck over the same ground, but are tennis players somehow held to a higher standard?


Yes, I think, unreasonably so, and probably to do with the class connotations of tennis. I think that goes on in golf too. And aside from the class connotations, in a sport where you are a team of one and you are on display for hours in that way, you're going to attract more comments and judgments than in some other sports. For the Williamses, all of that is magnified by race issues, their gender. And also, as a competitor once commented, they both get a hard time because there are two of them. To have two sisters dominating the way Venus and Serena were for a long time was hard to take. I think somehow people felt that was unfair and expected them to spend their lives apologizing for it.
posted by BibiRose at 7:26 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


What the commentator wanted was to see the panties of female players and should therefore be banned.
posted by brujita at 7:30 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


And also, as much as I enjoyed the New Yorker article, that is the weakest excuse for a thesis ever, albeit one used all the time in sports writing. "So and so is underappreciated, not as unimportant as people think." The article could just be called, "Serena Williams: an Appreciation." But then it would have no argumentative spin, nothing for people to chew over with their beer and pretzels. This way, almost everyone is going to disagree on some level.
posted by BibiRose at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wasn't sure whether to make this a more well-rounded post about Serena; there's just so much material out there, and it's hard to decide what to include. To the poster who complained about it being an article "from last year," well, last year was a month ago, and the article was from September. And it was the New Yorker. And "Twirlgate," as mentioned upthread, is very much in the news today.

There seem to be many long-form articles about Serena and her many comebacks, but this one from 2013 also gives a portrait of who the woman is (Rolling Stone).
posted by Melismata at 8:24 AM on January 23, 2015


All I know about Serena Williams is that she (or her sister) should have played Storm.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:32 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Serena actually showed great composure in response to the twirling request, despite the chorus proclaiming she is rude, mean and intimidating. She has been in the apparel game for a while and has much more media experience than Bouchard. It is a complicated line to walk when you are a top level athelete and have a legitimate reason to talk about and display women's clothing.

I love Bouchard's reaction because you could just see how embarrassed she was by the request. Women become too good at swallowing all kinds of sexist bullshit and Serena's got plenty of practice. I have nothing but admiration for her.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:36 AM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm usually not one to immediately pull out the "Racism" or "Sexism" card, however, in this case it seems like it takes far more effort of imagination to wave off claims that either of those two things are inherent in criticisms of Serena Williams.

Just look at this thread. Her biggest crime against her sport is that she made a hyperbolic threat towards a referee. A low point in her career, for sure, but something to judge her entire nearly two decade long career by? I take it the people who would forever hold this against Serena Williams have never watched a Major League Baseball game where players and managers are regularly tossed out of games for making heat of the moment nasty comments towards umpires?

The best anyone else can come up with is...she semi-trash talked an opponent once? Again, to those who would take offense at this, have you never watched literally any other sport that exists in the universe, ever, where braggadocio and throwing shade on one's rivals is something that happens so frequently as to be barely noticeable background noise?

I mean, I suppose it is possible that the fact Serena is an extreme minority in her sport both in terms of race and body type is a mere coincidence that is totally divorced from the fact she is held to a standard of politeness and manners virtually no other athlete that I can think of is expected to keep, but not very likely.
posted by The Gooch at 9:14 AM on January 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Here's how I watch tennis as someone who played regularly at the public courts as a teenager (Borg-Conners-McEnroe-Evert-Navratilova era), who now hasn't played in years but still likes the game: For the early rounds of the major tournaments tennis is on for big chunks of the day on the sports channels, now with different matches playing over several feeds. I pop in and out of watching matches on these days, often seeing who the up and coming players are. It's all a bit random the players I end up watching. In the last year I'll make a greater attempt to watch specific matches because there are a couple Canadians rising to ranks Canadians have never played at before. So as a Canadian I'll watch Raonic matches even though he was born in Montenegro and lives in Monaco and plays a serve dominated tie-breaker style of tennis that I don't really like. By the time the tournament enters the later rounds the games are fewer and on the television just whenever less, most everyone has been eliminated but the same handful of dominant players and I'm less likely to stop to watch tennis (unless, like last year, Bouchard has made the semis or finals).

I remember appreciating Serena and Venus back in the day when they were newcomers coming off the public courts instead of some Florida training academy. But they've been around a long time now. Even though the final four seems more accessible in the women's game (I expect, for example, the Bouchard's chance of winning a major is greater than Raonic's) 6-0, 6-1 blowouts also seem a lot more common in the women's game. So you see Serena has reached the final and even though the other player is a top player you still expect an under an hour blowout. Hardly seems worth watching. So I haven't paid much attention to either of them for years. Does that make me bad? I'd seen mention of Serena's couple outbursts at the time they happened, but they weren't that memorable. Wasn't happening constant like with McEnroe and Conners in their time. I've always thought both sisters have seemed personable enough for big stars. Just haven't really wanted to watch them play for some time. Some men's players like Lendl and Sampras have come, dominated and left without leaving a whole lot of warm fuzzy memories. Djokovic is something of a cut-up, there are videos of him on Youtube performing quite funny imitations of other players, but he doesn't seem to inspire a whole lot of great love from the fanbase. Not from me anyway. For whatever reason I see Djokovic has reached another semi-final and it's like, ah, who cares? Won't watch that.

When we watch an individual sport we root for one and not the other and are reasons aren't always rational. We apply qualities to players to make our decision on whom to favour easier, but we know little about what they're like as people. When watching golf you'll develop a fondness for some players and a hate for others, even though as a group of people golfers seem particularly indistinguishable from one another.

And I will always love Steffi more than any other. Can't say why. Not like I actually know the woman.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:23 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sportsmanship (sic) is for amateurs, not professionals

What the actual hell? Why? Why would you think or want that? What is wrong with sportsmanship?
posted by corb at 9:29 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Williams is indeed singular: she is likely the only person ever to utter on a professional tennis court, “I swear to God, I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God.”

I was about to disagree with this until I realized it said 'professional'.
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:37 AM on January 23, 2015


Man, this thread is depressing. I'm not that much of a tennis fan, but even I can appreciate how great Serena is, and I don't give one shit about whether she's nice to her opponents or dumbass reporters or anyone else. That's not her job. Her job is being a tennis player, and she does that better than just about anyone else ever. If that's not good enough for you, you should examine your motives. I really thought MeFi was better than this.

> That said male athletes with rough personalities are not universally loved by any means - I'm thinking of players like Barry Bonds, who even before the steroid revelations was not beloved by the fans outside of SF, as he didn't care about PR, and being personable was not part of his gig. I'd go so far to state that sort of fan / player relationship is pretty common.

Yup, and until now Bonds was my go-to example for "incredibly great athlete who takes incredible shit for not pretending to be a sweetheart."
posted by languagehat at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Her job is being a tennis player, and she does that better than just about anyone else ever. If that's not good enough for you, you should examine your motives. I really thought MeFi was better than this.

Me too. Also, I sat next to her (next box over but I was literally next to her) at the US Open once (she was watching her sister) and not like it matters to her athleticism, but she's seriously VERY beautiful and was also very polite and nice and etc.

young blonde pretty tennis player and the older black tennis player both being asked to twirl

Might seem like a nitpick but it's kind of an overdone microaggression to pair "blond, pretty" in opposition to "black" time and time again.
posted by zutalors! at 9:59 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's not her job. Her job is being a tennis player, and she does that better than just about anyone else ever. If that's not good enough for you, you should examine your motives.

I don't really understand what bright ethical line you're drawing here. We all care about the way people go about their jobs as well as the job they do. We all have opinions about whether or not a given movie star is a gracious or idealistic person or a narcissistic brat, for example, even though that has nothing to do with whether or not they can act. We all form our opinions about all kinds of people in the public eye (CEOs say, or authors, or rock stars or whatever) and admire the ones who comport themselves well more than the ones who don't. It's perfectly reasonable to say "So-and-so is a terrific writer, no doubt, but it's a pity he's such an asshole." I don't understand why sports should be the one area where it's illegitimate to discuss or hold opinions about someone's character.

Certainly one should not confuse the consideration of character with the consideration of how excellent someone is at the game, but that's another issue again, and doesn't seem relevant to this thread. No one is suggesting that Serena be barred from playing tennis and nor do I think anyone is suggesting that she's not a great player. But some people think she's a particularly admirable person beyond simply her tennis ability and some don't. Leaving aside the question of which group is right and which is wrong (personally, I think she is, on the whole, pretty admirable and that she has, on the whole, drawn more flack for her occasional lapses than she would have if she were white) I think the claim that the only thing it's legitimate to discuss about her is, essentially, her win-loss record is indefensible.
posted by yoink at 10:18 AM on January 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


...but are tennis players somehow held to a higher standard?

Yes, they are - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/sports/tennis/australian-open-rafael-nadal-praises-tim-smyczeks-sportsmanship-in-close-match.html?_r=0

...all athletes are not standing on the same plane when it comes to reacting to competitors, officials, and spectators

Please show me the Serena specific set of rules. Are they next to the ones that dictate where people sit on the bus or what water fountains they can use? Cause the very existence of a separate set of rules in either case is straight up racist/sexist by definition. She can sit wherever she wants, she can drink out of whatever water fountain she wants, and - bad news - she's held to the SAME standard as other tennis players (not football, not baseball, not soccer, etc.).

The two worst white dudes in the history of sport are remembered for a) calling someone an abortion and b) "you cannot be serious." It's more than a little interesting that Serena gets a pass from some of you for much worse behavior in a single instance, and comparable behavior over the course of their respective careers. Describing an expectation that she behave according to the SAME standards of her chose profession as the "twice as good rule" really airs out the frankly horrifically low expectations some of you have of this particular black woman - expectations that are no joke the most shamefully racist/sexist thing in this entire thread.

Might seem like a nitpick but it's kind of an overdone microaggression to pair "blond, pretty" in opposition to "black" time and time again.

Help me out - since there seems to be this insinuation that I don't understand the concept of microaggressions - “I swear to God, I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God.” - is that also a microaggression? Or is that something that's totally OK given the socioeconomic, racial, historical contexts of this particular sport/other sports and this particular player/other players?

...

Serena derail aside - why play the fashion game at all? No, this isn't victim blaming, asking them to twirl is also bullshit. There are other women players who literally do not give two shits about what they wear on court. Lace 'em up and give 'em hell.

I'd do a FPP about how up and comer (and not unlikely next #1) Simona Halep literally lopped her tits off to play better tennis - but something tells me MeFi won't field that one too well.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Simona Halep literally lopped her tits off to play better tennis

I don't think breast reduction surgery = literally lopping off your tits.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Might seem like a nitpick but it's kind of an overdone microaggression to pair "blond, pretty" in opposition to "black" time and time again.

Help me out - since there seems to be this insinuation that I don't understand the concept of microaggressions - “I swear to God, I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God.” - is that also a microaggression? Or is that something that's totally OK given the socioeconomic, racial, historical contexts of this particular sport/other sports and this particular player/other players?


This is a total redirect of my comment - I wasn't talking to you or in context of the ball down the throat thing, which I wasn't commenting on. It does seem like from the rest of your comment that you don't understand microaggressions, but unless the help you need about that is about my specific comment, someone else might be able to help you understand them better.
posted by zutalors! at 10:41 AM on January 23, 2015


Describing an expectation that she behave according to the SAME standards of her chose profession as the "twice as good rule" really airs out the frankly horrifically low expectations some of you have of this particular black woman - expectations that are no joke the most shamefully racist/sexist thing in this entire thread.

Certainly we can have a reasonable disagreement about the motivation behind criticism of Serena Williams without pulling out the Godwinning-esque "The people calling out racism/sexism are actually the REAL racists/sexists" argument?
posted by The Gooch at 10:57 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


so do you just avoid djokovic and nadal matches all together? people act as if only women grunt but it's not even close to true.

I can't answer your question about Djokovic and Nadal because I don't watch tennis anymore (the occasional match/major tournament if I'm bored). A big factor in that trend was Seles, and the subsequent screeching matches. I am not acting as if only women do it, I'm stating that it has turned me off to tennis. Doesn't matter if it's Nadal or Sharapova...hours of nails scratching the chalkboard isn't entertaining to me.
posted by Chuffy at 11:13 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I don't really understand what bright ethical line you're drawing here. We all care about the way people go about their jobs as well as the job they do.

I'm not drawing a bright ethical line, and speak for yourself. I mean, of course I care about "the way people go about their jobs" in the sense that I think they shouldn't cheat or employ excessive physical violence, but I literally do not give a shit whether an athlete, actor, or writer is polite or not. That's not their job and once you go down that road you're left with hardly anyone to admire because you expect too much of humanity. If I watch a tennis player, it's to see them play good tennis, not be polite to people.

> I think the claim that the only thing it's legitimate to discuss about her is, essentially, her win-loss record is indefensible.

Nobody said that.

> expectations that are no joke the most shamefully racist/sexist thing in this entire thread.

Yeah, like The Gooch said, this is bullshit.
posted by languagehat at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Certainly we can have a reasonable disagreement about the motivation behind criticism of Serena Williams without pulling out the Godwinning-esque "The people calling out racism/sexism are actually the REAL racists/sexists" argument?

I mean, there's obviously a real extent to which that is overplayed, I actually don't think there's really much racism or sexism in the thread. But thinking about it again, I actually think there's a thread of something there. A lot of people are talking about Serena Williams' presentation as though naturally she would be louder, naturally she would be flashier, naturally she would be more aggressive - and they're at least strongly implying that it's because she's black. And honestly, that does seem a big problematic, particularly in a sport that is known for decorum, and especially also because her sister, who is, presumably, just as black, doesn't come in for this criticism.
posted by corb at 11:40 AM on January 23, 2015


I literally do not give a shit whether an athlete, actor, or writer is polite or not

Why not? I mean, I care that anybody is "polite"--in, at least, the expanded sense of "are they respectful of others, do they behave well" etc. It doesn't really matter whether I follow what they do or have any idea who they are. We all do. Look at Metafilter; if someone posted a video of some random nobody behaving badly in some way we'd all merrily weigh in with our opinions and argue the toss back and forward about how right or wrong the person was. It's what humans do; it is, indeed, the nature of ethical concern that it universalizes its claims (hello Kant!).

You seem to be smuggling in some sort of third term in which if one thinks an athlete has been "impolite" (and disapprove of them for those reasons) one must also argue that no one should watch them play or admire their talents. But that's as absurd as saying that you can't read, enjoy and admire a book by someone you know to be an asshole. Qua author, the only thing that matters is how they put the words together on the page. Qua person, however, they're fair game for our judgments: are they unnecessarily irascible? Do they unfairly disparage up-and-coming writers? Are they curmudgeonly to admirers? Etc. etc. These are all things that it is perfectly reasonable to have opinions about, so long as one doesn't conflate them with one's opinion of the writing.

Similarly, it's perfectly reasonable to have opinions about whether an athlete comports him or herself well. Are they generous to the abilities of their opponents? Are they reasonably gracious in their dealings with fans, officials, etc.? All of these are perfectly reasonable things to have opinions on and to allow to contribute to your overall impression of the person. I had very strong opinions, back in the day, about John McEnroe being a self-centered, entitled, pampered little cry-baby prick. It didn't stop me marveling at one of the best serve-volley games ever (when he would shut up long enough to actually play). I would think anybody who didn't strongly disapprove of McEnroe's behavior in his playing days was engaging in a moral lapse, indeed; it would be failing to condemn something that was inherently odious.

The claim that the only thing it is reasonable to concern oneself with when it comes to thinking about an athlete is their athletic ability is just arbitrary and indefensible.
posted by yoink at 12:46 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Serena derail aside - why play the fashion game at all?

Because she likes it? Because she's a goddamn human being and hey some people like to dress up? Can you list all the things that a professional tennis player is allowed and not allowed to care about?
posted by kmz at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


A lot of people are talking about Serena Williams' presentation as though naturally she would be louder, naturally she would be flashier, naturally she would be more aggressive - and they're at least strongly implying that it's because she's black.

If your going to make this claim, please provide links to specific comments (and there should be "a lot" of them) that make this assertion. The only person I've seen in this thread who has implied that Serena Williams is more aggressive than any average tennis player is Cosine. Pretty much every other person was making the exact opposite claim - that Serena is perceived to be more aggressive because she's black.
posted by muddgirl at 12:55 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


A lot of people are talking about Serena Williams' presentation as though naturally she would be louder, naturally she would be flashier, naturally she would be more aggressive - and they're at least strongly implying that it's because she's black.

I have not seen one comment saying or implying anything like this. Sharapova is just as -- if not more -- loud, flashy, and aggressive. The issue many of us are raising is that Serena is criticized over and over again for a scattered few instances of behavior over a decades-long career, when others who are demonstrably less skilled at the sport and who have exhibited the same behavior are not characterized that way. In other words, Serena's unparalleled career is often defined by her few mistakes, while others who have made the same mistakes and not made half as much of an impact on tennis are given a pass for those mistakes. When the question comes up of why this is so, it's evident from the way people talk about Serena (not just in this thread - in the media at large, in the way she is treated by crowds and tennis officials, and in personal conversations I have with other people who follow tennis) that her race and gender are connected to this. Anyone who is familiar with the treatment of prominent women, or prominent people of color, knows this is not limited to tennis. Which is why I referenced the "twice as good" rule above: you have to be twice as good to achieve parity, because people will ding you twice as hard for any errors and give you half as much credit for any achievements. Saying that truth is racist or sexist is denying the lived reality of many of us.
posted by sallybrown at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


My apologies - after rereading the thread, I realized I had somehow spread one comment of emptythought's - where he talks about Serena just being a "confident, cocky black woman" - over the whole thread. Probably because I was upset by what seemed like the implication being made.

I do, for the record, think that Serena is strongly penalized, in the public and sport consciousness, for not performing femininity in the same way that other female tennis players have. But I don't think it's a racial thing. I think she presents in a lot of typically masculine ways that are not approved of or appreciated in women's tennis, which, as myself and others have said, is very class oriented and traditional-gender oriented. But those traditionally masculine behaviors do NOT come from her race.
posted by corb at 1:26 PM on January 23, 2015


If your going to make this claim, please provide links to specific comments (and there should be "a lot" of them) that make this assertion.

QFT.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2015


The image of her as "angry" and "aggressive" is a common trope used to stereotype black women. The constant harping on the few times she has lost her temper in public as exposing the "real" or "true" Serena -- as compared to the thousands of matches in which she has played with professionalism -- plays on that trope.
posted by sallybrown at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


It is super extremely common for black women to be stereotyped as masculine and uncouth.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:31 PM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


But I have it on good authority that it's never about race.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


It is super extremely common for black women to be stereotyped as masculine and uncouth.

That is, in a weirdly roundabout way why I have such a problem with the defense of Serena on those grounds. It seems really clear to me at least - from the quotes mentioned, descriptions of what she's done, etc - that Serena presents as masculine and outside of the traditional behavioral norms for women's tennis in a way that other women of color do not. And so the defense of her on the grounds "You're just thinking that because she's black" seems, at least to me, to be reinforcing that stereotype by placing Serena as a norm rather than an outlier. It is absolutely appropriate to compare her to Althea Gibson - who I have never heard any talk of unsportsmanship about - and in more recent era, her own sister. Because if it were just about race or upbringing, you would be hearing these same complaints about Venus Williams as well as Serena - which you don't.
posted by corb at 1:41 PM on January 23, 2015


Serena presents as masculine and outside of the traditional behavioral norms for women's tennis in a way that other women of color do not.

She really does not. In fact, I would say she is very stereotypically feminine, including her interest in fashion design and home decor businesses. She is also known for taking her on-court fashion seriously, including big jewelry (similar to Sharapova).
posted by sallybrown at 1:47 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


Because if it were just about race or upbringing, you would be hearing these same complaints about Venus Williams as well as Serena - which you don't.

You do hear complaints about Venus. The ugly Indian Wells incident was part of a rumor that the sisters cheated by throwing matches or feigning injury in each others' favors. Both were harshly criticized when they were coming up as young players for being cold or distant in locker rooms, and for wearing braids. As I said above, though, Venus is almost super-humanly controlled, emotion-wise (in the vein of Federer), whereas Serena has lost her temper a couple times in public. Venus is also famously humble, whereas Serena does not shy away from agreeing that she is supremely talented, one of the best ever -- which is the truth.
posted by sallybrown at 1:53 PM on January 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Serena presents as masculine and outside of the traditional behavioral norms for women's tennis in a way that other women of color do not.

In the off-season she enrolled in cosmetology school to learn how to do nails and she went to the Costume Institute Gala in a Sno-ball and a satin hat one year. I think you are off-base on this.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:01 PM on January 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


At the very least, a single shred of evidence for this supposed masculinity would distinguish this from the very problematic tropes people have mentioned above.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:02 PM on January 23, 2015


I do, for the record, think that Serena is strongly penalized, in the public and sport consciousness, for not performing femininity in the same way that other female tennis players have. But I don't think it's a racial thing.

I'm regularly flagging comments on tennis forums I frequent calling her a "gorilla" etc. Racism is a huge part of the reaction to her, it's undeniable. The vitriolic reaction to her is the perfect storm of racism and sexism, really.

The only thing that bothers me is that people seem to feel anyone arguing that her tennis persona is flawed is either trying to excuse this reaction, or part of it - which I don't believe personally is always true. You can not be a fan of Serena, and not be part of the horrible hate around her. Also, Serena doesn't have to be "nice" to be a victim of the racism, sexism etc. I'm not trying to minimise this, spend time on tennis forums, it always has me slinking back to mefi so gratefully, because they are truly foul on this topic. But I feel like casting Serena as some kind of Saint is a bit counter productive, she's allowed to be a dick, if she wants. She's allowed to be like that and not be the victim of this horrible abuse. Nadal cops flak for his gamesmanship, but nowhere near what he deserves. Berdych can be a real idiot. Nicholas frigging almagro is a total asshole, Hewitt had that shock g incident at the us open. but they don't get shit delivered the way Serena does.
posted by smoke at 2:12 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Why not? I mean, I care that anybody is "polite"--in, at least, the expanded sense of "are they respectful of others, do they behave well" etc. It doesn't really matter whether I follow what they do or have any idea who they are. We all do.

Again, speak for yourself. I find it hard to believe that you care that anybody is "polite" whether you follow what they do or have any idea who they are; you must spend all your time caring about the politeness of strangers. I don't, and I suspect most people don't unless they have some other motive for letting the subject affect them. I remind you that we're talking about politeness, not violence or other over-the-top breaking of norms; most of the stuff that makes the papers, from OJ to Pistorius to the latest rape scandals, grips my attention as it grips everyone else's—I'm not pretending to be some aloof spectator who only cares about stats. But politeness? Somebody said something mean to somebody else, or gave them a dirty look, or whatever? I do not give one shit. Life is too short.
posted by languagehat at 2:48 PM on January 23, 2015


But politeness? Somebody said something mean to somebody else, or gave them a dirty look, or whatever? I do not give one shit. Life is too short.

Your very contributions to this thread prove this statement false. Heck, you got, according to your first comment, "depressed" simply because some people you for the most part don't know and for the most part will never meet didn't even say something mean to somebody else but merely about somebody else (somebody who will never even know or care that these things were said).

You're a better, more caring person that you want us to believe you are for the sake of this rather pointless argument, languagehat! Only a psychopath turns off their moral judgment except in cases where the actions directly impact themselves.
posted by yoink at 3:11 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


languagehat: " I find it hard to believe that you care that anybody is "polite" whether you follow what they do or have any idea who they are"

Well, even if you find that hard to do, try. Different people are people.
posted by Bugbread at 3:19 PM on January 23, 2015


yoink: "You're a better, more caring person that you want us to believe you are for the sake of this rather pointless argument, languagehat!"

You, too, yoink. Like you, I also get the impression that LH cares more about politeness, but reflecting on that I think it's because he cares about other people in general, and because he himself is generally polite. However, I can't actually remember any examples of him looking down on someone else specifically because of their lack of politeness. If he says he doesn't care about other people's politeness, then take his word on it. Different people are different.
posted by Bugbread at 3:26 PM on January 23, 2015


Whoops. Languagehat, I meant to write "Different people are different", not "Different people are people".
posted by Bugbread at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2015


A lot of people are talking about Serena Williams' presentation as though naturally she would be louder, naturally she would be flashier, naturally she would be more aggressive - and they're at least strongly implying that it's because she's black.

I, at least, was not doing that. I was saying that she is also those things and is punished far more harshly than anyone else who wasn't both black and a woman would be.

It absolutely seems to be demonstrably true that you can be loud/flashy/aggressive and a woman and do ok sometimes, you can also easily be loud/flashy/aggressive and do ok a decent amount of the time if you're a black man(see comparisons to jordan, kanye, etc who receive criticism but not "this should invalidate them" type criticism).

No one is taking it to this weird "of course she is lol, black women are like that!" place you seem to be implying they are that i've seen in this thread. This reads like another case of the mentioned previously up thread "the people saying there's weird racism going on here are the real racists!" sort of garbage.

Hi, person who used the child molester analogy here.

forgive me, i guess, for being confused by your scattershot engagement with this thread. you did indeed make the point you mentioned in replying to me, but also made that heinous and frankly confusing comparison and then asked for a reboot.

I don't even know if we're on the same page, because it's hard to tell what page you're even on.
posted by emptythought at 6:30 PM on January 23, 2015


This is a lot overblown ... Serena gets huge amount of respect from anyone in, around, or even moderately interested in professional tennis. No one denies that she's by far the best woman player of her generation, and by at least one measure (years and extent of tour domination) she's the best ever to play the game. Some people wish she did a better job at the play-acting of sportsmanship and some people think she's an authentically not-nice person ... but these are truly inconsequential in their appraisal of her relative to her athletic prowess.
posted by MattD at 6:35 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


...the people saying there's weird racism going on here are the real racists!" sort of garbage

No one's saying that either. Several people would like to imply that's what being said in order to construct a super uncharitable strawman as part of the generalized pitchfork MeFi shout-down mob - but sorry, not actually the case.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2015


Some people wish she did a better job at the play-acting of sportsmanship and some people think she's an authentically not-nice person

Is she really that bad, though? My guess is Tom Brady and Russell Wilson won't be going to a Mariah Carey concert together the night before they play each other in the Super Bowl.
posted by The Gooch at 7:19 PM on January 23, 2015


smoke: "googling would show you. Again, if you don't follow the game I would urge some circumspection around strongly worded claims."

Strongly worded claims? It was a strictly factual claim about what happened in the video. Easily checked, too. Did you actually read my comment, or just the words you quoted? It is clearly true. The crowd cheered when Ian Cohen asked for a twirl. I don't doubt that the tennis world is in an uproar, but that is not what I was talking about.
posted by koeselitz at 7:26 PM on January 23, 2015


I think the steriod comment is off base, with regard to Serena, she is a well tuned amazing goddess athlete, and carries her physical conditioning well.

I think the Russian swimmer was probably normal too, way back when, American women didn't build their bodies for competition like the eastern bloc women did, we were assigned the American girl ideal and it decreased our ability to compete. Now women build to compete, and are awesomely beautiful, and really strong. What a great thing.

I can't imagine Ms. Williams can absorb as much negative energy as she has to, without some overload. Racism is an ugly quality, I hear way too much of it, reminds me of the ugly, bad old days.
posted by Oyéah at 7:41 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the Russian swimmer was probably normal too, way back when

Are you referring to some specific incident about a Russian swimmer that I'm not picking up on?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:22 PM on January 23, 2015


Because if, as it looks like, you're accidentally comparing Serena to the Eastern Bloc female swimmers who were absolutely without a doubt on a massive, years-long institutional regime of steroids that led to eventual financial compensation for the women being drugged, then I think you are making an incredibly poorly framed case for her innocence and should stop.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:26 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why the hell are people still talking about Serena Williams and not Ian Cohen?
posted by koeselitz at 9:36 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "Why the hell are people still talking about Serena Williams and not Ian Cohen?"

Because there's no disagreement there? I would be amazed if even a single person in this thread didn't think he was a tremendous dick. Disagreements drag out, and agreements are brief. That's why contentious MeTa threads are so damn long.
posted by Bugbread at 12:46 AM on January 24, 2015



Are you referring to some specific incident about a Russian swimmer that I'm not picking up on?


There's a post above that refers to Serena being "juiced" as if it were common knowledge, and links to a site that compares her physique to that of a swimmer from the 70s. I actually flagged that post.
posted by BibiRose at 6:26 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is she really that bad, though? My guess is Tom Brady and Russell Wilson won't be going to a Mariah Carey concert together the night before they play each other in the Super Bowl.

Why do you keep trying to contextualize her behavior via sports that aren't tennis? Why is it apparently fine to apply standards and expectations from other sports to this sport, but it's completely out of bounds to apply standards and expectations of all players in this sport to all its players? I'd argue the former is sloppy thinking (and __ist in every sense. Try bringing in unrelated context in other threads and see how well that works out for you - but tennis, that's ok). The latter? Racism and sexism. Maybe star treatment if I'm feeling charitable.

There's a strong case to be made that Serena, in fact, received special treatment throughout her "few" incidents. The 2009 fucking ball, fucking throat thing saw very slow moving actions by both the USTA and ITF, both during and after the match - because they wanted to get it right. The USTA fined her the maximum permissible on-site fine of $10,000 (plus $500 for racquet abuse). The ITF fined her $175,000 in lieu of suspending her from the 2010 US Open or other Grand Slam events and placed her on a two-year probation. The fine was to be reduced to $82K (still a record) upon successful exit of the probation.

Before her probationary period was up, she had yet another incident at the 2011 US Open, where she broke the rule that says you can't celebrate before the play is actually over. This is where you tell us how that's totally ok in baseball or football. She loses the point and blows her top. Again. Quotes:

'I don't understand.
'I'm not giving her that game. If anything, we need a replay.
'Aren't you the one that screwed me over last time here? Yeah you are.
'Seriously, you have it out for me?
'I promise you, that's not cool. That's totally not cool.
'I truly despise you.
'If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way because you're out of control, you're out of control.
'You're totally out of control. You're a hater and you're just unattractive inside.
'Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser.
'You get a code violation because I express who I am. We're in America last I checked.
'Can I get a water? Or am I going to get violated for a water?
'Really, don't even look at me. I promise you don't look at me because I am not... Don't look my way.'

Since we're selectively applying norms from other sports - I guess we'll skip past how just about all of these would get you ejected. But this is tennis - so she plays on.

For this, she's fined $2,000, was not barred from competing in the 2012 US Open, and her 2009 fine reduced to $82K from $175K. I completely agree that Serena was treated unfairly here - in that standards and expectations were set and repeatedly broken, and officials bent their own rules to avoid the circus of actually suspending her. Record fines, no suspension - is it racist/sexist that she got treated differently here, where disciplinary measures were defined - just for her - and those same measures were then selectively enforced? That expectations were lowered for her? To use your formulation - hm, sure looks like it. Again, maybe star treatment if I'm feeling charitable.

So what of her Mariah concert with Caroline? Well, when Caroline beat her in Miami a few years ago, Serena said:

"Everyone I play always plays the match of the year...I probably played about 20 percent."

There are very few Serena losses where she doesn't volunteer some formulation of "They played out of their minds. I played poorly." Contrast to those players winning the sportsmanship award, who will absolutely refuse to elaborate on injury situations contributing to losses even when repeatedly prompted by reporters' questions.

SI's Jon Wertheim puts it best: "When Serena is on her game, she is unrivaled. But too often, her comportment has not been worthy of her tennis." Her accomplishments in the game in terms of tournaments won are indeed amazing - no one is saying they aren't. Some are, however, calling her out on her lack of sportsmanship and frankly, leadership. Evert, Navratilova, Shriver, and King actually took the Williams sisters under their wings when they were starting out. Serena sort of did that for Sloane Stephens - right up until Sloane beat her. Then?

She's not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia," Stephens says emphatically. "And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter."
Her mom tries to slow her down, but Sloane is insistent. "Like, seriously! People should know. They think she's so friendly and she's so this and she's so that -- no, that's not reality! You don't unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?

Not just a woman thing - Sampras mentored Federer. Even Jordan would mentor Kobe. Again, the legends of women's tennis rushed to mentor the Williams sisters. Serena? Not so much.

Others have touched on it, but there's this idea that Serena being an asshole is actually progress. Yes, there was a time that she wouldn't have been allowed to play at all. Yes, there was a time when she would have needed to be better than perfect in her comportment ala Althea or Arthur Ashe. That's not today. Isn't it great that she can be an asshole just like a white male sports star can, now? Isn't it great she can have vapid interests like cosmetology or fashion, instead of being saddled with the responsibility of stewarding women's sports like Billie Jean and her generation? See how far we've come?

And yet, there are also ideas like 1) bro culture is kind of a problem and 2) women's sports still aren't where they should be. I'd argue that a black, female JMac or Jordan isn't really the change we want to see. If even daring to voice that idea is racist/sexist, then you're just going to have to send me some white robes and a pointy hat.

The men's game has evolved and is in an incredibly gracious place today compared to the bad old days of JMac, Connors, and Nastase. Maybe in 30 years the women's game will be in a similar place once ungracious stars like Sharapova, Azarenka, and yes, Serena - are all gone.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:41 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


What could possibly be more gracious than taking your US Open finals opponent out for drinks after the match?
posted by The Gooch at 8:18 AM on January 24, 2015


Serena, like McEnroe, fits into a category of tennis player known to anybody who has ever played on a somewhat competitive level -- that of the "tennis brat." These are the entitled, spoiled, and petulant kings and queens of the court who cannot stomach losing because they've been groomed from a very young age to expect to be the best tennis player in the world. On and off the court, they seem to suffer from a form of arrested development. Typically these players flame out before they ever see a professional court. Some, like Agassi, grow out of it during their career. As for McEnroe and Serena, it's a testament to their ability as players that they succeeded in spite of their temperament. We'll throw Martina Hingis into the mix here, as well. Contrast this with Jimmy Connors, who was more of a sports-psycho in the Jordan mold than a traditional tennis brat.

Unfortunately, Serena also has to face a ton of racism and sexism. There is literally nobody in the tennis world that I have ever seen treated so poorly. Venus I think was the trailblazer and people rooted for her -- when Serena came along, people were less enthusiastic. Were these two sisters going to ever let anybody else win again? So, undoubtedly, negative reactions to her success and her temperament are tremendously colored by the fact that a strong, powerful, African-American woman is undoubtedly the most dominant, exceptional women's tennis player of all time. The wealthy, European tennis community has shown it cannot handle that fact very well. But all of that still doesn't mean Serena isn't a jerk. The juvenile way she has treated Sloane Stephens and other players has been incredibly disappointing.

One day the story of the Williams family will be written and it will be fascinating. Richard Williams deserves a biography or three all on his own. Theirs is a success story to be applauded and lauded, but that doesn't mean that those in the family are above reproach.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:45 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


What could possibly be more gracious than taking your US Open finals opponent out for drinks after the match?

It's easy to do when you won. And beaten that opponent nine times out of ten. Flip the script and how gracious is she then? Think they went out for drinks after the one time Caroline beat her? After her 20% comment?

We know she didn't just not take Sloane out for drinks after she lost to her.

Keep digging for them links, though.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:11 AM on January 24, 2015


The reaction of some folks in this thread is, in my mind, the same as someone taking Amy Poehler's "I don't fucking care if you like it" moment, interpreting it as uncharitably as possible -- that is to say, acting as though no other humorist or member of a sketch team has ever uttered a similar outburst -- and then saying that moment (or, rather, their interpretation of it) somehow truly and singularly defines her as a person forever after.

"How come Tina Fey can work in a similarly hostile-to-women environment and not resort to using cuss words? You never heard stories about women in comedy who came before her like Phyllis Diller or Lucille Ball cussing out men they were working with, and they arguably faced an even more hostile environment. Why isn't she perfectly gracious and accommodating towards every other female entertainer, especially the younger ones who come after her? I'll tell you why: Amy Poehler has no class and is truly one of history's greatest monsters."

(Just to be clear, the above is about a hundred thousand lightyears from my take on Amy Poehler saying that to Jimmy Fallon.)

The reaction seems to be all out of proportion to what she's actually done -- which seems to be a pattern with black Americans and with women who don't conform to the Nice Nurturer model. That's a hell of a thing for a person to have to "double dip" into, and so I'm in some ways surprised that Serena Williams hasn't been more combative and contrary.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:10 PM on January 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


vapid interests like cosmetology or fashion

Oh, Jebus. Otherwise I think you made some good points there.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:12 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Whoops. Languagehat, I meant to write "Different people are different", not "Different people are people".

That's OK, both statements are unimpeachable!

And just to be clear, of course I like it when people are polite; what bothers me is treating politeness as relevant to a discussion of sports figures, particularly when such figures are black and/or female. It would be either clueless or disingenuous to pretend there's no history of putting non-white/male athletes down for violating otherwise irrelevant standards, much as otherwise irrelevant standards were used (and now are again—progress!) to keep black people from voting in American elections. I'm not lumping anyone in this thread with racist Republican operatives, as I hope is clear, just explaining why the topic rubs me the wrong way.
posted by languagehat at 1:29 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


for those banging on about the expectations of professional tennis players and the standards they are to hold themselves to at all times lest they be branded forever as poor sport - how do we feel about grigor dimitrov smashing his racket in a fit of frustration?
posted by nadawi at 7:34 AM on January 25, 2015


And just to be clear, of course I like it when people are polite;

Quite.

what bothers me is treating politeness as relevant to a discussion of sports figures

It's relevant to a discussion of them as people. Which is what sports fans do all the time about all sports figures. What you're objecting to is making more of the issue either than it deserves and doing so selectively when it comes to black athletes. And, obviously, it would be discriminatory and wrong to object to behavior in Serena (or any other black athlete) that you wouldn't object to in a white athlete. But then it's also quite literally "discriminatory" to say "I will refuse from ever criticizing any black athlete's behavior unless it amounts to something legally actionable."

I think it's undoubtedly the case that Serena has taken more shit than she deserves over the course of her career for all kinds of things. But it's demonstrably not the case that nobody gives a damn when a white player engages in a temper tantrum on the court, or refuses to ever praise his/her opponents or what have you. So long as the criticism, such as it is, is the proportionate to the offense in both cases it's perfectly legitimate.
posted by yoink at 7:43 AM on January 25, 2015


how do we feel about grigor dimitrov smashing his racket in a fit of frustration?

I don't know how "we" feel but me, personally? I don't particularly care all that much about how players treat their gear. It's not like it's uncommon for a player to break his or her racket. In fact I'd be very surprised if there was a player on either tour who has never broken a racket in his or her career. Sometimes it's even played for laughs. For example, here's video of Baghdatis destroying four of his rackets in under a minute -- the crowd is egging him on, he's laughing at the end, and it's clearly meant as catharsis. Here's Serena doing it a couple of years ago at the Australian Open. Notice the crowd throws out a few jeers and then just goes back to being a normal crowd. Totally typical reaction to a player breaking a racket. I'm not sure why or how that is meant to bother anyone. On the other hand, if you're destroying shit because you're trying to injure or intimidate another player or judge, then that is clearly bullshit and it's almost always an automatic disqualification. Here's Nalbandian kicking a line judge's box and injuring the guy.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:15 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


how do we feel about grigor dimitrov smashing his racket in a fit of frustration?

Speaking of Dimitrov, here's a ten page thread on Men's Tennis Forum arguing the toss back and forth about why people on Men's Tennis Forum generally hate Grigor Dimitrov. Which, if nothing else, is pretty good evidence that having opinions (negative and positive) about the personalities of players is not something tennis fans reserve for black tennis players.
posted by yoink at 8:49 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


for those banging on about the expectations of professional tennis players and the standards they are to hold themselves to at all times lest they be branded forever as poor sport - how do we feel about grigor dimitrov smashing his racket in a fit of frustration?

In today's installment of askatennisplayer.com (inspired by, but unrelated to similar cultural translation sites for cultural non-natives like askamexican or askakorean) - what about that racquet abuse, though?

Racquet abuse is almost always someone expressing anger in their own poor play. Could definitely be handled better, but that's an internal thing. It's not aimed at line judges or your opponent, but more to yourself. Still, some people do think about racquets like Morimoto thinks about his knives. Some people are more like Bobby Flay. Do you want to be the tennis equivalent of Bobby Flay?

So was Grigor mad at himself? From the BBC:

Three forehand errors gave up the break at 5-3, and a disastrous 11th game saw the Bulgarian drop serve to love before violently breaking his racquet in two after Murray swatted away a return winner.

Seems so. What's Grigor got to say after the match? Also from the BBC:

If you lose, you obviously haven't done some things right. I'm happy that I competed at a good level and it takes a player like Andy to beat me like that. I'm just disappointed because it's not the result that I wanted. For sure I could have done some things better.

Dimitrov has been a pro for about 7 years and is speaking in a non-native language. This, in contrast to Serena, or JMac, or Connors who've all been pros for decades and doesn't face similar lost in translation issues (guess I'm also racist against Irish Americans now, too - sigh).

Grigor could, of course, be a total asshole in his native Bulgarian. I'm not Bulgarian, so I won't presume to place my cultural expectations on his context. Besides, this is MeFi and we know not to do that anymore - except for tennis. For tennis it's still ok, right guys?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's Nalbandian kicking a line judge's box and injuring the guy.

From the link you've provided, he did not mean to injury the guy at all. The whole link is him apologizing, and the announcers talking about how unfair the rule is when there was no malicious intent. It's not bullshit.
posted by Melismata at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2015




Um, no one cares because heaps and heaps of players do it all the time, and there is no penalty and no one is attacking Serena for breaking raquets etc? I know this may be hard to understand for people coming from outside tennis, but people are generally not attacking Serena for things other players do all the time. Things like abusing the line judge etc are very rare - even doing it once puts you in a very, very exclusive club in the context of professional tennis.

This is why the "only once in thousands of matches" comments are irrelevant: the vast majority of pros have thousands of matches and never do anything like that at all.

posted by smoke at 3:06 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh stuffed up my tags, I meant to be quoting your comment, nadawi.
posted by smoke at 3:12 PM on January 25, 2015


this thing where people who don't like serena keep assuming that everyone who likes her is coming from outside of tennis is pretty annoying and completely off base. i watch a lot of tennis - i know that racket breaking is common and that there is no penalty for it - i'm saying that excusing it is at odds with some of the opinions in here of how gentile and polite tennis is - it's not - it's a tough sport filled with fiery characters. serena has acted crappy a few times in the past, but in the entire breadth of her career, for all she has accomplished and all the times she showed grace in the face of immense racism (and the inherent sexism that follows women's tennis around), it really deserves to be no more than a footnote on a brilliant career. instead it's all people can seem to talk about. it's fairly parallel to how when kanye comes up some people can't help but mention 45 seconds from 5 years ago or whatever. god forbid the kanyes and serenas of the world notice the stew they're swimming in and lose their cool every once in a while.
posted by nadawi at 4:20 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I apologise, I really thought your comment was asking why no one was making a fuss about Grigor Dmitrov breaking his raquet, and implying it was because he's not black and not a woman.

Personally, I don't really put it in the same category as the other behaviours talked about in the thread - and neither do the ATP, WTA, and tournaments etc, but I can see you think they're of the same piece.
posted by smoke at 4:57 PM on January 25, 2015


as i said - i was pointing to it as an example of anger expressed on the court - refuting some of the points in this thread, not ones made by you for what it's worth. although the way you keep putting words in my mouth is starting to grate. whatever. i don't know why i bother discussing race stuff here. lets see if i can stay out of this thread for real.
posted by nadawi at 5:10 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


i watch a lot of tennis - i know that racket breaking is common and that there is no penalty for it

Then you need to watch more tennis, because you're not as informed on this point as you think you are. There are, in fact, real penalties for racquet abuse. In order to avoid those penalties, players have been known to play a point or two with racquets they cracked during tantrums in order to avoid those penalties by following the letter (if not the spirit) of the applicable rules.

Additionally, that you're trying (and failing) to draw an equivalence between a player committing an act of self-harm in doing damage to their own tools and a player threatening to physically harm someone else is telling. To go back to the chefs - stepping on your own cutting board is one thing. Threatening to brain someone over the head with it (or, say, shove it down someone's throat) is a difference not in degree but of kind.

And to put in context - an actual threat of physical violence is a singular event in tennis history committed by one, and only one, player. Not all women. Not all players of color. Not even JMac has ever done such a thing, and his bad behavior will be in the first paragraph of his obituary.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:26 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I didn't say I would kill you. Are you serious? I didn't say that." The line judge replied by shaking her head and saying, "Yes."

If a white football player threatened to murder a woman referee he would be celebrated. She is just being singled out because of race and gender.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:22 PM on January 25, 2015


If a white football player tackled an opponent and threw him to the ground he'd be celebrated, but if Serena Williams did the same she'd be banned for life. Do you think that's because of race and gender?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:30 PM on January 25, 2015


A dead Quaker: "The force of her hitting the ball sometimes, especially when she yells, is like something from avatar or a classic kung fu movie.

That's appropriate, given that she has voiced a couple minor characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra.
"

I already loved Serena Williams, and am now experiencing some kind of epiphanic spiritual event that defies description

seriously guys I can't feel my fingers
posted by scrump at 12:40 PM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


i assume anyone in this thread is either paying attention to the australia open or isn't going to watch it - so if i'm wrong about that, stop reading here lest you get spoiled...




...woohoo serena! 19th grand slam! oldest person to with the australia open, second oldest to win a grand slam! what a great match!
posted by nadawi at 6:40 AM on January 31, 2015 [7 favorites]


Moreoever, if she keeps playing like this, I can easily see her winning another one next year: Sharapova didn't have much of a chance, and she wasn't playing too badly.
posted by smoke at 2:13 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]




i found this to be a good read and it also includes some stuff about the charity she's supporting with her return - one that is explicitly about race and class bias in the criminal justice system - dave zirin on serena returning to indian wells.
posted by nadawi at 8:44 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


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