Serena Williams is taking the sartorial high road when it comes to the French Open’s ban on catsuits, but that hasn’t stopped critics from saying she is being singled out – again.
The critics howled when French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli announced the new dress code at Roland-Garros, saying that players “must respect the game and the place.”
Respect, yeah right, these people huffed. How about respecting a woman’s discretion to wear what she wants for a sporting match? What about respecting that the catsuit is functional, as Williams told Reuters, and helps her with blood clots?
The angriest among them called it flat-out racism. Anna White once wore a catsuit at the much-stricter Wimbledon venue! (It’s worth noting that was 33 years ago, and White was reportedly asked not to wear it again.)
Williams didn’t seem terribly fazed addressing reporters Sunday ahead of her first-round match in the US Open.
“We already talked. We have a great relationship,” Williams said of Giudicelli, laughing as she added, “Everything is fine, guys.”
It may sate some of Giudicelli’s detractors, but not all of them. Given Williams’ response, it would be easy to accuse the latter of needlessly playing the racism or misogyny cards, but when you look at how history has treated Williams, do they have a point?
Can you see a consummate world champion male athlete enduring constant criticism of his looks?
Michael Jordan wins his sixth NBA title and the first thing out of a commentator’s mouth is, “I don’t know, Brent; do you think his shorts left too little to the imagination?” Or Michael Phelps holds aloft his 23rd gold medal and Bob Costas asks his fellow commentators if Phelps has a bigger butt than the other swimmers.
Off the field, Tom Brady has pimped Uggs, Cam Newton has stepped to a podium wearing a campaign hat so comically large it might fit Smokey the Bear himself and Russell Westbrook showed up to a game looking like he’d survived a mauling by a wild animal. They were mocked for a minute, and fans moved on.
Tennis is different, you say? There’s a different level of decorum? OK, Rafael Nadal went sleeveless for years. How many times did you hear his biceps compared to those of an animal, or see his success tethered, at times wholesale, to his freakish guns?
Perhaps not since the end of Jim Crow have athletes of Williams’ ilk – and, to be clear, with 23 Grand Slam singles titles and counting, that’s a tiny circle – had to weather so much criticism about their facade, be it melanin level, physique or choice of attire.
So, before assailing Giudicelli’s critics, consider:
This one is so pervasive, there’s no need to spend much time on it. Just Google the words Serena and gorilla for a host of vile, bigoted juxtapositions.
If it’s helpful, David Leonard, a professor in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman, compiled some of this content for his blog a few years back.
She’s been compared unfavorably to other animals as well, but you get the picture.
Claims she’s a man
Calling Williams’ physique manly invokes two stereotypes. One is that no woman could be this dominant; she’s so good she must have a penis. The other is that black women are not feminine and thus less attractive than their white counterparts.
This may sound like the offering of a Klansman or some rube trapped in a hopeless time warp, but with Williams it came from no less than the head of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, who in 2014 earned a suspension after referring to Serena and her sister, Venus, as “the Williams brothers.” He later apologized, calling it a joke.
To provide a sense of how long the Williamses have endured such nonsense, 13 years earlier, radio personality Sid Rosenberg was temporarily booted from a nationally syndicated show after calling Venus Williams an “animal” and the sisters “boys” who were “too muscular.” He then said they had a better shot at posing for National Geographic than for Playboy.
Even Don Imus, who himself was axed in 2007 after calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos,” seemed offended, calling Rosenberg a degenerate, according to reports at the time.
Again, you could expect this from an anonymous nitwit on Twitter, but even journalists and her fellow tennis stars have joined the fray.
Caroline Wozniacki, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic have all stuffed towels up the fronts of their shirts and down the backs of their shorts to mock or emulate the build of one of tennis’ greatest players.
In 2006, a columnist for the Telegraph – after questioning Serena Williams