Refereeing Serena: Racism, Anger, and U.S. (Women’s) Tennis

12 Sep

Yesterday, I tuned in, as I have done nearly every summer since I was nine or ten years old, to watch the finals of the U.S. Open. Serena Williams was vying for her 15th Grand Slam title against Australian player Sam Stosur.

As I tuned in, I steeled myself for the endless stream of racist commentary from the sportscasters, of whom Mary Carillo, Chris Evert, and Darren Cahill are the chief offenders.

All honest tennis players and stans will admit that the Williams Sisters have transformed the game of women’s tennis. They have brought power and speed to bear in ways that used to be relegated to the men’s game. With their power serves, speed, and willingness to chase down and make impossible shots, the Sisters also upped the physical fitness requirements for champions.

When asked about 3 years ago how the Williams Sisters had transformed the game, Darren Cahill offered rather hesitantly, “they have opened the doors to people from all walks of life.” Really? That’s it? Tennis is more colorful now that the Williams Sisters have been a part of it? Thanks for the magnanimity, Darren. 

But it is the female commentators who make me want to spit nails. Mary Carillo and occasional commentator and tennis legend Chris Evert are the worst of them all.  Mary Carillo vacillates between loving Serena—now, anyway—and criticizing her. In the early part of their careers, the sisters winning game was attributed to their powerful bodies. But they were frequently accused of “lacking strategy,” “not thinking about their shots,” and “relying on their ‘natural athleticism.”  Whey they started coming to the net and winning, their success was attributed yet again to their “natural athletic ability.” The Williams Sisters were represented as hypermasculine, unattractive women overpowering dainty white female tennis players (although Jennifer Capriati, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin are anything but dainty.) These narratives about Black bodies as “naturally athletic,” “more powerful,” “more wild,” “less thoughtful,” and “less strategic” and black female bodies as “(un)naturally strong, invulnerable, and unattractive”– are central to Western narratives of white racial superiority.

I knew the hateration would be back in full force this year, when I tuned in to watch Donald Young, a wild card player in an early round match.

As Young played, John McEnroe, who has been a great defender of Serena, Patrick McEnroe went on a diatribe about how “undisciplined” Young is and how the USTA (US Tennis Assoc) has had “problems” with him. Young stopped training at the the USTA’s tennis academies, and has instead chosen to let his parents train him at the facility they opened in ATL. But if Black players continue to defect from the formal ranks of the USTA, to train by themselves, perhaps the issue is not with the players or “their lack of discipline,” but rather with the USTA itself?  Perhaps the problem is with a tennis system that largely sees Black players as a “problem.”

How does it feel to be a problem?

Still, it is the Williams Sisters who bring to the surface most of the problems with racism in U.S. tennis.

After losing the first set to Sam Stosur, Serena hit a winner at 30-40 in the 1st game of the 2nd set. Trying to pump herself up, she yelled out, “come on!” before Stosur hit the ball, apparently violating a little known “point hinderance” rule.  The point, played at 30-40 on Serena’s racket, was taken away giving Stosur the first game.  The ref had the discretion to call for replay of the point, or take it away, if it was deemed intentional. Clearly, it was unintentional.

Serena gave the ref the business for the next three games. She accused her of being the ref “that screwed me over last time,” remarking, “that is so not cool.” Turns out, the ref was not in fact the same person. Then during two changeovers Serena mocked the referee, telling her that she was “unattractive, pause, pause, pause, inside.” As she insulted the ref, Serena told her “don’t even look at me. I am not the one!”

Serena’s outbursts could be costly. At the 2009 Open, she was fined $82,500 and put on probation for threatening to shove a ball down the throat of a referee who kept giving her poor calls.  After yesterday’s show of anger, she could be banned altogether. That move would be unfortunate, unfair, and costly for the game of women’s tennis.

Yes, Serena lost yesterday’s match because Sam Stosur played better. But I must point out that Serena played the semifinal  until almost midnight on Saturday evening, only to have to turn around a play the finals match at 4:30 pm Sunday. The tennis officials capitalized on the Williams Sisters primetime appeal, by making Williams play her match after the two men’s semis. The move makes no sense (why split up the women’s semis?) unless we consider what the Williams Sisters mean for the USO’s bottom line.

And frankly, I see Serena’s outburst as understandable and amusing.  Call me a Williams stan if you want to. It’s true. But this is not about simple loyalty.

Yes, I’m aware of all the ways in which her acts in this moment reinforce stereotypes of the Angry Black Woman. However, we cannot use our investment in a respectability politic which demands that Black women never show anger or emotion in the face of injustice to demand Serena’s silence. Resistance is often impolite, and frequently it demands that we skirt the rules.

Even so, when asked about her loss yesterday, Serena, while not remorseful about her exchange with the ref, was nothing but gracious to Sam Stosur on her win.

Moreover, the USTA loves angry heckling players—as long as they are white men. Early in the tournament, there was a video and interview tribute to Jimmy Connors, a player legendary for his angry outbursts on the court. In the tribute they devoted extended time to showing one of the more famous of these outbursts, in a celebratory manner. White anger is entertaining; Black anger must be contained. (Check out #7, 5, and 4 to see how regular such displays are in tennis.)

Serena continues to disrupt tennis spaces with her dark-skinned, powerful body, her flamboyant sartorial choices, her refusal to conform to the professional tennis obstacle course, and her willingness to get angry and show it.

That disruption is necessary—because however “right” or “wrong” it may technically be—it demonstrates that all is not well racially in tennis. Black folks—men and women—are still largely understood within a narrative of brute, undisciplined physical strength—rather than as athletes who bring both physical and intellectual skills to their game.  As long as these issues remain, tennis will continue to be “unattractive” from the inside out.  


123 Responses to “Refereeing Serena: Racism, Anger, and U.S. (Women’s) Tennis”

  1. Luna September 12, 2011 at 7:55 AM #


    What an analysis. Powerful, thought-provoking, and well stated.

    Kudos to you for hitting this nail on the head. Now, we’ve got hundreds of other sports to tackle.


    • Christopher King September 12, 2011 at 1:24 PM #

      Word word word!

      11 SEPTEMBER 2011

      KingCast congrats to Sam Stosur and to Serena Williams!

      ……There is so much thinly-veiled racism going on here that I can’t even call it. McEnroe is pretty cool but I see he took a beating for opposing Carillo……

    • Christopher King September 13, 2011 at 10:32 AM #

      Question: Why did you line out the McEnroe support sentence? I think he has been pretty cool about it, there was a little retreat last night in the men’s final but I got the sense it was more just him placating Carillo, who was definitely on a tear, rabid.

      • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 10:51 AM #

        No, I just corrected it to Patrick McEnroe. It was P. McEnroe who went in on Donald Young.

  2. Allee Dew September 12, 2011 at 8:08 AM #

    Thanks for posting this. Have you all seen the conversations between Claudia Rankine and Tony Hoagland about his poem which uses racist images of a “fictional” black female tennis player? You can find Rankine’s commentary by going to her website (here: and clicking on “*AWP”. There are links there that help you find the history of the discussion, a copy of Hoagland’s (offensive) poem, etc.

  3. KCF September 12, 2011 at 8:45 AM #

    I was also really disturbed by the crowd’s adoration for the white Australian tennis player. When Serena was in the last set, I would have expected (as for most U.S. athletes playing in a home-field advantage situation) the crowd to have rallied behind her. Instead, it seemed as if the crowd was more about knocking Serena down a peg. Perhaps I am just sensitive, but those loud cheers for Stosur really irked me, especially looming large on the narratives about how we as “Americans” have just come together after 9-11 that were so rampant (including visual reminders of this on the court itself). Thanks for your analysis, your line, “White anger is entertaining; Black anger must be contained” is really poignant.

    • Phil September 12, 2011 at 4:06 PM #

      Are you kidding? The crowd was completely behind Serena after the penelty and while she was doing well. Serena just played very poorly and gave the crowd little reason to cheer. The crowd at tennis matches cheers loudly for the winner, regardless of who they were rooting for. It’s not racism–it’s called manners.

      • Christopher King September 12, 2011 at 6:31 PM #

        I would tend to agree more with you on this point. I dont think the crowd was hating on Serena. But the officiating toward the Williams sisters has been horrendous and it is a FACT, as noted in my link above, that the Tournament apologized for it.

        At any rate, when you look into so many forums, there is often a nigger undertone and overtone to the comments and I have called bullshit on that before. Nobody ever called Mac a Mick or whatever, when white players go off there is almost NEVER a racial banter online and you just can’t dispute that.

        Game Set Match KingCast and and Crunk,

      • Christopher King September 13, 2011 at 6:22 AM #

        As I was saying about racism, look how people land on my site I could show more but I wont’ let these haters make me waste more time out of my day:

        Fort Thomas, Kentucky, United States Insight Communications Company ( [Label IP Address] 0 returning visits — serena williams foot fault nigger #3
        13 Sep 00:37:23

      • Dannette September 13, 2011 at 1:58 PM #

        I half agree with Phil here. The audience was supporting Serena throughout the match, frankly more than I expected, considering her angry outbursts and poor play. But, Phil, you are sadly mistaken if you really believe racism doesn’t play a role in how the Williams’ sisters have been treated by fans both in the US and other places. They have often been perceived as overly dominant and overly-aggressive, completely outmatching their opponents. This idea is definitely informed by perceptions of blacks as physically superior, (and inferior in other areas). And, because of that dominance, people feel comfortable rooting for their opponents, who they see as totally outmatched underdogs. Even your statement that audiences cheer loudly for the winner because of good manners is highly suspect. First, crowds usually root for the loser, because they want to see the match extended. And, what’s “well-mannered” about rooting for the winner? Meaning, they’re rooting against the loser, and that’s good manners? Sounds ridiculous. Plus, audiences play favorites. Andy Roddick acts like a dick and abuses not only umpires, but the US Open’s tournament referee, and the fans still love him. Because he’s “American”. Because he’s the guy next door. They overlook his foul attitude and support him, win or lose. As they do all other US players in this country. Except when it comes to Venus and Serena.

  4. Michelle Purdy September 12, 2011 at 9:13 AM #

    Well said Dr. Cooper!

    • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 9:16 AM #

      Thanks for helping me think this true, Dr. P. I’m sure you can see your influence on the piece. 🙂

  5. E in CT September 12, 2011 at 9:17 AM #

    Excellent. My heart aches for Serena. I, too, know what it’s like to be assaulted by the double whammy of racism and sexism in mostly white, elite settings. I also know the the politics of respectability do not protect black women from these assaults on our self-image, ego and character. i hope she has a good therapist.

  6. Martin September 12, 2011 at 10:19 AM #

    Serena was clearly pumped. I think she was frustrated at not being able to bring her A game to the final and screamed ‘come on’ not as a way of putting Stosur off her game but to get herself pumped ready to comeback in the 2nd set. After all she did the same against Kuznetsova back in Doha a couple of years ago – BUT even though the umpire made the right call referencing the rule, she did not make the correct judgement regarding how to deal with it. In Doha the point was replayed. Granted the opponent gets the point if you start screaming and dancing by the net to deliberately distract your opponent but in this situation Serena hit a haymaker forehand, probably intended it to go closer to the tramline, which when it landed a little central in the court allowed Stosur to catch it on her frame. Stosur did not have a play on the ball so a let should have been given. I don’t like it when officials seem to influence matches, particularly grand slam finals, by rewarding and deducting points particularly at crucial points in the match. The US open seems to have a problem with Serena Williams. They love the revenue she makes but seems to like screwing her over. In 2004 every winner Serena hit was deemed out by an umpire who seemed to revel in dabbling in the match. In 2009 the open seemed to be obsessed with foot faults and loved foot faulting Serena and the point penalty on match point handed Clijsters victory and this year it seems like the umpires still like making the wrong judgement call and again at the expense of Serena. Like I said I would have reminded Serena about calling out during play, issued a let and let the players decide the outcome of the tennis match. Overall Stosur played well, Serena was screwed and imploded. I felt she handled the situation well because I would have walked off the court before my mouth got me into trouble! Let’s wait and see how the Grand slam Directors rule on the event. It wouldn’t surprise me if they see fit to ban Serena from a few grand slams, but if they did it would be killing women’s tennis at a time when its talent pool is very shallow and vulnerable. Maybe they should focus more on training their officials to not just regurgitate a rule book but also use common sense on judgement calls. The emphasis should be that a tennis match be decided by two tennis players and that umpires should not be allowed into the mix!

    • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 10:27 AM #

      Very well said. Thanks for your insight.

    • Denise Maye September 12, 2011 at 10:42 AM #

      Well said!

    • GB September 12, 2011 at 2:36 PM #

      I play tennis {not professionally but I play and watch it always}. I thought the call the umpire made should have been a “Let” and the point replayed. Having said that: tennis has always been a “rich person’s sport”. As with golf, until someone with charisma came along {Tiger Woods and Serena and Venus Williams} it was not on many Black people’s radar. I said all that to say: Yes, there is a lot wrong with tennis and sports in general. Blacks are still trying to become coaches, managers and people with power and not just the athletic abilities. We need to focus our anger at the “powers that be” and changing from the inside out including our responses.

    • Shara September 14, 2011 at 1:50 PM #

      You truly grasp the importance of the injustice here. Thank you for saying all that we readers so badly would like to say. I believe as an American black female athlete at the USOpen Serena is deemed strategically lacking & physically aggressive & they live to exploit her while taking their racism to the bank. Serena & Venus have changed women’s tennis for the better with intelligent & physically excellent play. Sadly, it appears that the crowd & announcers at these events decided that Black people aren’t American when against a white player. No matter how many black intellectuals, athletes, authors, poets, scientists & artists contribute to America white America refuses to acknowledge this….unless they can cash in!

    • Stefaan Vanopdemaan (@StefaanOpdemaan) September 15, 2011 at 1:04 AM #

      As someone put it on a tennis-forum:
      “…That is not correct. The penalty is different in WTA events, hence the let. In ITF events (the majors), the penalty is the loss of a point. If you look at the clip of the incident, you will see that the umpire tried to explain the difference to Serena. It is not clear what prompted the explanation. But, the umpire was on top of her game.”

      And another person:
      “I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the definition of “intentional hindrance.” It does not mean that you intentionally meant to distract someone. It means an intentional act (in this case screaming “COME ON.”) that hindered or had the chance to hinder the opponent.
      If Serena had gotten stung by a bee during the point and screamed something because of that, then a let would have been played.”

      If these are correct, it would seem there’s a lot of prejudice here towards referees, seemingly presuming they are racist, by people who don’t know the rules?

      BTW: A white player thinking a black referee was the same one he had trouble with before, how would that go down? To those racists, black people all look the same?

      • Tina September 15, 2011 at 11:54 PM #

        Before gauging the qualifications of people who choose to freely comment, there are a few facts and rules which should be reviewed. It should have been deemed, Player Hindrance. If you notice 20-25sec, Serena believed the point was completed. If you watch she continues towards the side of the court as if to walk off. I would, however, question her “intentional hindrance” if she has done it in the post. To my knowledge this is a completely isolated and premature outburst based on her behavior, the play was in fact complete in my opinion.
        Now let’s review USTA rules. If a player commits any act which hinders his opponent in making a stroke (not winning a stroke), then, if this is deliberate, he shall lose the point or if involuntary, the point shall be replayed. Her opponent was able to hit the ball. She was not hindered and connected with the ball, based on that alone, it should have been deemed a, Let. It would be different if Sam stood up but she didn’t. she was prepared and didn’t even flinch when the shout was made. At the very least, the umpire displayed poor judgment . poor judgment from the refs and linesman, continue to be in consistent conflict with the Williams sisters.
        As for race and racism lets look at the facts. Anna and Maria made more money in endorsements than actually winning championships, Fact. People like when their products are endorsed by champions, look at Roger. However, Serena and Venus aren’t offered the same contracts options as their Caucasian tennis counterparts, FACT. Why are/were other players, like Davenport, Hingis, Hewitt and countless others able to openly spew extreme racial biases on the court and not receive the rage press that seems to follow the Williams sisters?
        The reality is tennis came alive after two girls from Compton repainted the white washed sport of tennis. The rating are always highest for women’s tennis when the sisters are playing. Tennis needed an overhaul and I am glad they look nothing like the countless other players. Ultimately, they want the same thing everyone else does. They want to do their job to the superior level they are able to, without the boss breathing down their necks, throwing racial slurs and micromanaging their progress. How would you feel? FYI: if it wasn’t for the Sister none of the women would be making the same amount as their male counterparts. They brought not only the brown to this sport but fought for equal green for all female tennis players. Sam should thank Serena and Venus for the amount of her check!

  7. Robert September 12, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

    Serena Williams is at once one of the most talented and one of the most classless athletes in recent memeory. Regarding what happened at the open in 2009, she basically said that she did not foot fault. She refuses to accept that she was wrong. And yesterday, “dont even look at me?” Who does she think she is?

    Personally, I think she merits a prolonged suspension from the game. She needs to learn she is not bigger than the sport

  8. Johnnie September 12, 2011 at 11:22 AM #

    Racism is lurking in the minds of tennis professionals (players, commentators, refs) just as in other areas. The truth is, I’ve heard everyone of the criticisms and compliments made in reference to players of other races or ethnicities. Serena wasn’t playing well and knew it. She was frustrated because every single point is important. She lashed out at the chair umpire, that was understandable. The fans are not crazy about her. I know i just like her because she is an excellent tennis player and she is black. I honestly am not crazy about her attitude, though. But that’s just me. The bottom line is — she is unattractive on the inside. I think. But I don’t really know her.

    • michael goodman September 12, 2011 at 11:47 AM #

      I just think there is a difference between yelling at a ref, and then accusing them for being out for them… I love the vicitim card…. How many grandslams does she have ? who is the vicitim >?> I think she did not need to get personal with a ref, and bringing up something about her past like that shows she is clearly not over what happened 2 years ago…. I think there is a great ability is to move on, as bad as that situation was two years ago, but I guess it is not about forgiveness anymore…. You play with flair , unfortantly you will be a target. Just ask Dennis Rodman, but in then the end, I believe it has you handle the moment, is what counts….i dont remember venus these issues????

  9. VANESSA September 12, 2011 at 11:29 AM #

    ………..and McEnroe should have been shot to the moon for all the outlandish things he said and did yet he was never suspended. Once again double standards when it comes to women, and African Americans. Why can’t u question a call, it’s done in every sport, oh I forget, the William sisters are dominating the sport, right……..LOL

    • Johan September 12, 2011 at 1:57 PM #

      McEnroe was suspended and fined numerous times. Just saying.

      I don’t really care whether there is a justification for Serena being a bad sport. As far as I’m concerned, the real elephant on the tennis court is PEDs. Serena has long been suspected of using them and her bout of strange injuries (including a pulmonary embolism, a steroid red flag) and sudden return to form have done nothing to dampen those suspicions. She’s hardly alone and I would be willing to bet huge money that Stosur is juicing as well.

    • Mr. Sidetable September 12, 2011 at 2:34 PM #

      Actually, McEnroe was repeatedly fined for his outbursts over his career, and received at least 2 long suspensions–one in 1984 for 21 days, and one several years later for 2 months. Jimmy Connors–another noted brat on the court–was suspended for 10 weeks in 1986 because of abuse of linesmen and umpires.

      This is not to say that the Williams sisters are not the victim of a double standard within women’s tennis today, but it’s just not true to say that other players haven’t been suspended for similar behavior (and I don’t think that either McEnroe or Connors ever threatened physical harm to an official the way Serena did in the Open in 2009).

  10. Shirley Collins September 12, 2011 at 1:05 PM #

    Wonderful article! I’m an avid tennis fan and I watched the sisters for a decade!! I’m appalled at the treatment they receive from the WTA, the sport annoucers (Mary Carillo, Pam Shriver, etc.) and the racist remarks continue to change according to how the sisters improve their game. I watched the entire 2009 US Open and during one match Martina Navratilova was the announcer and she stated how the officials were not calling foot faults during this match between white tennis players. During this same tourament Venus and Serena were called for foot faults repeatedly. In one of Venus games she was cited 10 times!! I’m sure their is a different set of rules for Venus & Serena Williams.

  11. Z September 12, 2011 at 1:44 PM #

    Wow, your commentary is one long rambling string of racism. As you see it, Serena deserves special consideration and treatment because she’s black. You seem to be arguing that she should bear no responsibility for her behavior because of her skin color. Would you have made the same argument in favor of leniency for a white player who shouted at a ref?

    You also contradict yourself. You state that Serena should not have had to play the semi match late at night merely because she is a ratings draw (an argument that you provide no evidence for at all, mind you), but then you say she should not be punished for her behavior because she’s a ratings draw. Which is it? Does she get special treatment because of her appeal or does she not?

    Then you go on to argue that blacks are somehow different from other races, so that’s why they are leaving to train on their own. And they shouldn’t be held accountable to rules that other races seem to have no problems following. If that’s not racism, I don’t know what is.

    You’re clearly a racist but only when you can use race to gain special consideration and treatment. When it comes to accepting responsibility, you use racism as a get out of jail free card.

    • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 2:19 PM #

      Where exactly did I advocate for leniency or suggest that no disciplinary action should be taken? Attempting to contextualize, understand, and sympathize with Serena’s point of view–all of which I do, unapologetically–is not the same thing as advocating that she not be sanctioned. I think a fine will be sufficient. Suspension or banning her altogether go too far. I never said or implied that she shouldn’t be disciplined because she is a ratings draw; I argued that this fact means that how she gets treated, whether good or bad, will affect the USO’s bottom line. As for proof, if you remember pre-Williams sisters tennis as drawing big viewership in primetime, then I stand corrected. But as far as I remember, that simply wasn’t the case. If you can prove otherwise, go for it.

      And calling someone racist for calling out the operations of racism is poor argumentation. Nuff said.

    • Denise Maye September 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM #


      Let me say first, that I am not in support of some of the behavior exhibited by Ms. William yesterday, or McEnroe or Connors 20 years ago. However, I think you are misrepresenting, maybe intentionally, what the blogger said.

      As I understand it, several top amateur tennis competitors, who happen to be of African ancestry have discontinued their training with the USTA associated camps and schools because they feel as if they are marginalized, mistreated, and targeted. A few in the region I live in (which happens to include Mr. Young), have opted to utilize lesser known, African American or international tennis pros because the comfort level is heightened. So this departure is not a result of the players feeling as if they are different, but feeling that they are TREATED DIFFERENTLY.

    • isolde September 12, 2011 at 3:49 PM #


      I disagree with your assertion that the author is racist, which really cannot be the case anyway because the author is black, and racism is a system of power and privilege, yadda yadda yadda . . .

      However, I do co-sign the majority of your comment. No one cared about Stosur’s semi with that no-name German player, but far more people were checking for the Williams/Wozniacki semi, which was why it got top billing in the night session. Matches were backlogged as well due to the inclement weather, and the men’s semi’s spilled over into the night session. Ratings for the US Open final do not hinge upon whether or not Serena wins. They hinge upon whether or not Serena is playing in the final. So no, the WTA is not obligated to change the schedule to make it somehow, more conducive to a possible Williams victory. That’s absurd.

      I’m always leery of articles crying race when Serena throws one of her tantrums. She was way out of pocket with that chair umpire and those veiled threats and taunts. It wasn’t funny or cute, and for what, exactly? Stosur still took that set 6-2. Serena deserves every bit of the call-out she’s getting for her latest outburst.

      • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 4:50 PM #

        You have wholly misrepresented my argument. I did not even remotely imply that the scheduling should have favored Serena. In fact, I merely pointed out the illogic of scheduling Serena’s semis match after the first women’s semi and the 2 men’s semis. Why not play both women’s semis back-to-back? The logic given for not having the men’s final yesterday was that the players needed rest. So what this means is that the USO officials do make scheduling decisions that are in the best interests of all players, and in particular so they will not be overly fatigued. But as your own comments point out, they were willing to go against the scheduling logic that they used for every other semis match, in order to play Serena at a time that would bring in more ratings, a move that disadvantaged her while benefiting their bottom line. That is certainly unfair. I have not “cried race.” In fact, I planned on writing this blog post last week after hearing the commentary on Donald Young. The arguments are not just about Serena’s recent incident, but rather about a pattern of behavior in the USTA which is why I devote considerable time to contextualizing other kinds of commentary and offenses. Finally, while I think Serena certainly could have handled it better, she has a history of getting effed up calls at the USO. Several years ago, a referee was disinvited from officiating for giving Serena clearly bogus calls.

        Even the commentators acknowledged that something was going on there. And while Serena’s reaction in 2009 was uncalled for, the ref was absolutely giving her ridiculous calls. And this continues to happen verifiably at the Open against the Sisters. It’s racist, and it’s much easier to hold out our respectability politics about how Black folk should act in the face of injustice, rather than address the racism of the tournament officials. And I’m so over it.

      • Rea September 14, 2011 at 4:00 PM #

        Someone can’t be a racist because they’re black? What kind of a twisted understanding of racism is this?!

      • crunktastic September 14, 2011 at 4:13 PM #

        Prejudice is biased attitudes toward a group based upon their perceived inferiorities (or other reasons that one dislikes them).

        Racism, prejudice based on race, requires power in order to discriminate. In other words, racism = prejudice + power. But Black people don’t have any significant level of institutional power, particularly in the sport of tennis.

        If a Black person dislikes a white person because they are white, that person might be called racist (and at an individual level one could argue this, but they are more precisely guilty of harboring racial prejudice which while undesirable is not especially threatening because they lack power), but at an institutional level, Black folks don’t have power so a Black person’s dislike for a white person will have absolutely no structural or long lasting effects on that person’s quality of life at any systemic level. The same is not true for white racism. Often white people believe that because they do not hold individually racist attitudes that this exempts them from charges of institutional racism. But white people, even poor white people, are born with white skin privilege, which exempts them from many of the harsh realities of structural racism that Blacks and Latinos must encounter.

        In other words, definitions of racism, particularly those which many whites are invested in, must move beyond discussions of individual attitudes (i.e. I dislike this person because of their race) and move to discussions of structural privilege. And let me add, that however progressive white folks think they are, most of them hold problematic attitudes towards all non-whites. it’s hard to grow up in the U.S. or any European country and not hold such attitudes. A certain degree of consciousness, vigilance, and intentionality are required to combat such attitudes, but very often white people retreat into defensiveness and cries of reverse racism rather than deal with the realities of racism in their own lives.

    • Tex September 13, 2011 at 6:07 PM #

      you clearly have no understanding of racism. someone who critiques the social structure of a sport is not racist, they’re being critical. the assumptions that underlie your summarization is what implicit structural racism is all about.

  12. BE September 12, 2011 at 1:46 PM #

    You allude to racist remarks by the commentators but don’t cite any directly. If the crowd was against Serena, it may have been for several reasons that have nothing to do with racism. An informed writer would know that US Open fans tend to support new blood and underdogs. But in any event, Serena did nothing to engage the crowd by her lackluster nonapology from the 2009 fiasco.
    As for “little known” rules: hindrance is hardly exotic. It’s probably as common as the net violation, and is taught to eight-year-olds.
    As for the commentators, I have known them to be equal opportunity critics. If one focuses on just A-A players, it might seem otherwise.

    • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 2:20 PM #

      Absolutely. Racism is a mere figment of my imagination. And rational argument is clearly a figment of yours.

    • Lori S. September 12, 2011 at 11:52 PM #

      Oh, yes, hindrance is such a well-known rule that *John McEnroe* didn’t understand why the chair ref had ruled as she did, and both he and Carillo had to wait for clarification from an outside source before they could explain the call to the viewing audience. Uh-huh. Next apologiest, please…

      • Dannette September 13, 2011 at 2:53 PM #

        the rule is well-known by the officials, players, and folks who follow the sport closely. the issue is not that the rule is obscure, or that the chair shouldn’t have invoked. the issue is that much is in their discretion in officiating these matches. and, given that stosur had absolutely no play on that ball, a warning or even a let would have been sufficient. and, the broader implication being that some players (read men and white folks) are given much more latitude, because their bad behavior is more palatable to an overwhelmingly white and male dominated scene. which i 100% believe to be true.

  13. BG September 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM #

    I was hoping for the opportunity to respond to any article that cried RACISM AT THE US OPEN and, this one did not disappoint, except that I take issue with some points that reek of hyperbole–misinformed hyperbole, at that. First, Mary Carrillo is an excellent sportscaster. I agreed with her back in the day when she talked about the Williams sisters lacking strategy in their early career on the circuit; they were young, talented, but unfocused. They grew into their prowess, for sure, but it took time. I hear nothing in her commentary that has ever represented the Williams sisters as “hypermasculine, unattractive women…” And how could you disagree with the comment about their winning due to their natural athletic ability? If I had an ounce of their skills, you think I’d be replying to from my 9 to 5 desk job? Second, Donald Young’s “problems” with the USTA stems from his Twitter rant about the organization not HANDING him a wild card spot at the French O–he didn’t feel he needed to QUALIFY for it, like other players of his caliber and rank had to. He then broke with the USTA when he wanted to continue being financially supported by the USTA but train at his parent’s tennis center. I’m not the USTA, but I am a woman of color — even I see a problem with this guy and is has NOTHING to do with him being Black. Lastly, Serena should have just kept her mouth shut–yes, she was tired because she just played the night before which, BTW, I consider a slap in the face to the women players by the USO to not give Serena a full days rest like they do the men but, that’s another feminist rant for a later time. Anyway, rules are rules (even Serena stated that at the press conf), and she’ll pay a fine–big deal. Again, you’re trying to get blood from a rock here. I disagree w/your last statement, I see Serena being COMPLETELY understood as an outstanding athlete, period. She DOES bring physical and intellectual skills to the game of tennis, and I look forward to the time where they show a video tribute to her–uncontained and full of her rants, power, dominance, skills, and especially her Blackness!

    • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 2:24 PM #

      I think Mary Carillo is a fine tennis sportscaster, and of late, she is a huge Serena fan, except when she isn’t. That said, I’ve been watching her and other commentators for years, and I absolutely believe that her remarks smack of racism. As I said, when the Sisters started being more strategic (e.g. coming to the net) the commentators (the same ones over the years) didn’t then reverse course and say, “oh now they are thinking about their game. They went back to, “oh they are great there because they are athletic.” You can’t critique them for being unthoughtful, see them do things that you say are thoughtful, and then describe it in the same terms as you did when you said they were being unthoughtful. So I stand by my analysis. Excepting everything except your last statement, we can respectfully agree to disagree.

  14. Jonathan September 12, 2011 at 1:55 PM #

    Thank you so much for this piece. I am still fuming after yesterday’s match and I spent quite a bit of time searching for a sportswriter whose perspective on this incident really captures all of the issues involved. This is the first I’ve found.

    I, too, have been an avid tennis fan and player for more than 20 years, and I have followed the Williams sisters from the beginning of their respective careers in professional tennis. Your first point is one of the most important: Venus and Serena get so little credit for their incredible contributions to the game. First and foremost, they have transformed this sport athletically. Listening to the commentators talk about Venus and Serena, as compared to any of their contemporaries, is excruciating. In addition to all of the examples that you provide, I am also irked by comments about the alleged poor form in their groundstrokes (note that the Williams sisters, in addition to Agassi, helped to make the swinging volley a standard tennis stroke). Of course these comments implicitly reference the fact that their parents have been their primary coaches, rather than “real” professionals. Many players have been coached by their parents, but few (if any) have been accused of lacking fundamental soundness in their basic groundstrokes. Like you suggest, their success is attributed to their “natural” athletic ability as opposed to skill. I can only hope that someday we will be able to process the meaning of the Venus’ and Serena’s accomplishments, as individual athletes, as siblings, and as African American tennis stars. Ugh…there’s so much to say. One thing I’ll note is that Venus and Serena are doubles stars, too! It is unprecedented in contemporary tennis for singles stars to play doubles the way that Venus and Serena have. With its emphasis on net play and volleying, often considered to be the aspects of the game that require the greatest skill and finesse, one might think that the Williams doubles success would be met with high praise. Nope.

    A few other things…

    I think it was Patrick McEnroe (not John) who made the comments about Donald Young. Patrick is especially salty because he has taken on a leadership role in developing young male talent for the USTA. John has been critical of Patrick’s approach, which hinges on a centralized development center as opposed to supporting athletes all over the country who are honing their skills wherever they happen to live. Gee, I wonder which of these approaches is more likely to diversify the game.

    Having watch Serena cheated out of points in high profile matches against (most memorably) Capriati, Henin, Clijsters, and now Stosur, one would have to be almost willfully blind to ignore the pattern. Serena’s graciousness in her loss to Stosur is a testament to her sports(wo)manship and Clijsters, as opposed to Henin and Capriati, demonstrates that she is acutely aware of the varying role that her opponents have played in these incidents and of the significance of the unfair call in the context of the match.

    Thank you again for this piece!

    • crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 2:27 PM #

      And thank you for the clarification. I thought it might be Patrick McEnroe, but wasn’t sure. And thank you for your excellent insights in the conversation. They are much appreciated.

    • lurrel September 12, 2011 at 10:19 PM #

      The worst thing about the CBS intro commentary before the finals match was this incredibly wowed talk about Stousur’s success at doubles, while never even mentioning that Serena has similar experience.

    • Dannette September 13, 2011 at 3:13 PM #

      yes, i agree with most of this. except, i don’t think serena was all that gracious towards sam stosur. she acknowledged that the one iffy call didn’t change the outcome of the match, and that stosur played very well. but, she owed stosur an apology for allowing the match and her victory to be over-shadowed by serena’s over-the-top bickering to the chair. and, she could have empathized with how the crowd turned on stosur, even though she bore no fault whatsoever in what transpired. serena took no responsibility for taking it too far, and showed no care for how it affected her opponent. i think there’s tons of racism, and some of serena’s feelings of persecution are totally justified. but, she needs to woman up when she’s been wrong, and i don’t think she really did that here. she could take a page out of venus’ book on this. she has a way of speaking truth to those folks, while maintaining her dignity and grace.

  15. CryBaby September 12, 2011 at 2:26 PM #

    wah….Serena is a big baby and a racist. She can’t control herself and is bad for womens tennis. I hope she never wins again. Congrats Stosur!

  16. Damein Bell September 12, 2011 at 4:12 PM #

    loved your piece .. what about us embracing race and racism in tennis ? .. then we could say “sheer black magic” and “that was such a honky serve” .. or shouldn’t we ?

  17. f.e.wright September 12, 2011 at 4:39 PM #

    Sports, like the rest of life, are shaped by all kind of ideologies about what the appropriate roles are for women, and women of color to play. Over all of these years, Serena is not new to this. Should she have known better than to continue a tirade that would get her nothing but further bad press? I’d like to say yes. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the latitude to determine when–in the face of constant pressure to be something different than who you are–your frustration will bubble over.

    Despite all the talk about her strength, the ironic thing is that the clip (to me) reveals her vulnerability in painful detail. Very easy to read her outburst as simple bad sportsmanship. Much harder for us to confront underlying currents of racism that shape how she is perceived, tirade or not.

  18. kaydee-p September 12, 2011 at 4:47 PM #

    I’ve watched tennis for years, albeit not consistently(and not quite understanding the rules when I was younger). Thanks for verbalizing what I’ve always thought: Venus and Serena matches have this particularly harsh tone to them. The commentators are unprofessional in their commentary, taking digs and criticism of the sisters regerding their athleticism and style when it certainly wasn’t warranted, and begrudginly throwing them compliments. Venus and Serena have changed the sport inmmesurably, and in return people choose to say they are not “classy,” have bad attitudes, focus on celebrity when they should be training, draw attention to themselves by wearing colorful outfits- all disgusting racist drivel. This is a woman who first off, has often been called a man(or codeword: extremely athletic), yet had nearly every inch of her body be critiqued and sexualized/fetishied, is called a bad sport for daring to express her adrenaline like any other athlete, and yet still plays top notch tennis and brings in untold revenue for her sport. I believe both the umpire and Serena were out of line to different degrees, but i also believe that Serena could breathe the wrong way and she’d be out of line, too.

  19. crunktastic September 12, 2011 at 5:05 PM #

    For any interested, here is the link to the 2004 US Open info when a ref gave Serena such an egregious call in the quarterfinals match that the ref was disinvited from the tourney.

    Given this incident, the 2009 incident in which it seemed like they targeted Serena for calls on foot faults, and yesterday’s incident, Serena has a history with getting bad calls at the US Open for rules that are usually not even an issue. Her sensitivity is not only understandable but rooted in fact.

  20. Kel September 12, 2011 at 5:09 PM #

    I dont necessarily agree with all the points in the article. As Serena went on her rant, I was like, “Oh boy theyre gonna really hate on her for this one, she’s being too sassy!”. I do love it, but tennis is such a snooty uppity sport. On the USTA page, so many people were so glad Serena lost, saying she was unsportsmanlike. I think those critical of the sisters mostly feel theyre not “playing the game”, and i dont mean the game of tennis. How dare the sisters have other careers outside of tennis! They are not disciplined! They dont respect the game! They dont play enough! There probably is a tinge of racism in some people’s feelings… there are not a lot of brown faces in tennis, and their father in the beginning doing it all his way…how dare he! I think John McEnroe used to be one of the haters, but he’s since sounded more complimentary… you just cannot ignore that the girls are just all-around awesome… whether they hit a powerful ace, or, strategically hit shots making you run up down back n forth each way around that court, they are awesome.

  21. RAW September 12, 2011 at 7:49 PM #

    The Williams sisters brought me to tennis–I became a huge fan of the sport because of them. That said, having followed Serena and Venus for over a decade (I even have the dolls, folks), I think it is important that we recognize, as you say, the racism that surrounds commentary around them, while also placing her bad behavior in context. The incident with Capriati was so bad it changed the game of tennis–if there was one incident that brought about the challenge system, that was it. I think all of these incidents have had a cumulative effect on Serena and have contributed to these explosions. But loving Serena also means that I will call her out–in the name of tough love–when she does these kinds of things. The incident last year was extraordinarily bad–I wonder if we introduce class to this conversation if we have a different relationship to the incident. Here’s Serena, an incredibly wealthy, powerful tennis player (in multiple ways), threatening to shove a “f$%&ing” ball down the throat of a lines person. I couldn’t recall anyone saying anything like that to a lines person in the last decade of watching tennis. Lleyton Hewitt accused a black chair of giving James Blake a point because he was black and I never forgave him for it. So Serena stating the truth–that she loses because she didn’t play her best, rather than mindlessly saying that the other player played well was disruptive to tennis. Her attire was disruptive. Her insistence on doing things outside of tennis and rolling on back to win the slams anyway? Disruptive. This crap? While I understand her rage, I suspect Venus–her incredibly cool and collected sister–would be first to tell her that she needs to cut that out. I’m all about recognizing the need of black people to express rage, but the contexts in which she has done so has shown a surprising lack of professionalism, and perhaps worst of all, an inability to see others she sees as beneath her. Not black female behavior I want to hold up. Not the black feminist ethic I embrace. Let’s not conflate things in defense of her that people who attack her conflate. We’re better that that.

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 5:37 AM #

      Not sure I agree with your critique of class and power here. Yes, Serena has money, but in that moment, the linesperson’s calls play a huge role in the outcome of the matches. And for Serena, the linesperson is an apparatus of the tennis organization, which means that her (bad) decisions are backed by their power. So Serena only seems more powerful if we look at the incident at an individual level, but at a structural level, the linesperson functions as an enforcer for an organization that historically has been discriminatory towards Serena. (And it’s clear given how friendly and gracious Serena was to Stosur post-match while refusing to shake the ref’s hand, that the ref and only the ref was the target of her anger. She lashes out at those that she feels has power or are supported by a power structure; but she doesn’t lash out indiscriminately. And that’s when I read her displays of anger as a form of resistance.)

      And in that regard, I can sympathize with her behaviors and not condone them. And I don’t condone them. But I do advocate a real discussion about expressions of Black anger. And sometimes we allow the conversation to get short circuited because the display of anger wasn’t “pretty, or professional, or neat, or unoffensive.” But like I said, resistance and displays of anger are often impolite. Was your last display of anger pretty, neat, unoffensive, etc? I hear you pushing me to be nuanced in terms of where I place blame and demand accountability, and I appreciate that, but I reject a priori the notion that displays of anger in response to injustices (small or large) should/must happen in ways that don’t make folks uncomfortable.

      Serena needs to learn some self-control like her sister has learned, but if you have a chance to view the Youtube clip with the tennis outbursts, Venus has an angry outburst too. In the early part of her career she wasn’t always so subdued. But yes, we can definitely say that in 2009, Serena went way too far. And she paid a hefty fine for it. I don’t condone bodily threats or violence. (Perhaps the years really have taken a toll.) But I support her right to get mad and to express it, and I challenge us to move beyond discussions of sportsmanship and respectability when putting her actions in context, because like it or not, with the Williams Sisters, race and gender politics absolutely matter in terms of how we read their actions–angry outbursts included.

      • Dannette September 13, 2011 at 3:28 PM #

        i agree with both of you here. i think you’re right to put her actions in a more thoughtful context, that names the racism implicit in that situation, and calls out the many ways in which the williams sisters have been targeted and treated unfairly in tennis. i would simply like to see serena williams take some responsibility. her recent commentary about the 2009 us open incident was that she rarely refers back to that “so two-years ago” incident, and that when she does, she just has to laugh. she was extremely slow to apologize when it all happened, and even then, her apology was very half-hearted. if you step away from her unbelievable talent, her tremendous work ethic, and incredible accomplishments in tennis. her fighting spirit and champion’s heart. if you forget that she’s world famous and a millionaire a hundred times over and future hall-of-famer and black and female and from compton and all of it. if you just look at her, making the mistake of threatening to shove a ball down some woman’s throat in the heat of the moment, or telling the chair umpire she’s unattractive, or what have you, you just want her to be contrite when it’s all said and done. or, i should speak for myself. i just desperately want her to take a pause. and show a little humility, a little circumspection. a little maturity and grace. and, i don’t see enough of that from her. i really love venus and serena, but this stuff from serena is very disappointing for me. and we can’t give her a pass because the system is so jacked up.

  22. Musa Ibraheem September 12, 2011 at 8:38 PM #

    If more people knew about the infamous “lynching” incident at the BNP Paribas Championships at Indian Wells, CA in 2001, they would absolutely understand Serena’s hostility. Plus the foot fault nonsense at the ’09 Open. Top players get the benefit of that call all the time. I’m also sure somebody had to tell Serena and Venus about the year Mary Carillo called their father “crazy” on the air during Wimbledon one year. Nobody ever called Jim Pierce crazy, even though he was stalking his own daughter. After enough stuff like that happens, it has to have an effect.

  23. Kevin September 12, 2011 at 9:00 PM #

    It must be nice to live in a world where simply acknowledging that black athletes’ success in tennis has opened doors is a racist comment. I had always thought that tennis has historically been a very closed, country club, good old boy sport; evidently I was wrong.

    You can’t complain about doors being opened and closed at the same time.

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 5:21 AM #

      It must be nice to live in a world where reducing the contributions of people of color to “diversity” and failing to acknowledge the real ways in which they have changed the sport itself for all players doesn’t make you racist.

      For the record, no other Black player has won a grand slam since the Williams Sisters started playing, which is interesting since there have been other Black players on the tour. And I can name the Black players on the tour that are playing majors or have played in majors in the last five years on one hand. (Donald Young, Sloane Stephens, Scoville Jenkins, and Chanda Rubin in the early 2000s) So the real impact of diversity is debatable. What will tennis look like when the Sisters retire in at most the next five years?

  24. Mr. Sidetable September 12, 2011 at 9:38 PM #

    The USTA has handed down its disciplinary decision: a $2000 fine. Serena earned $1.4 million at this year’s U.S. Open, including her bonus for winning the U.S. Open hardcourt series.

  25. James September 12, 2011 at 10:16 PM #

    You have good points for sure, especially in the difference of the media reaction between Serena’s tirades and Roddick’s. However, 1) The same call was made against Marion Bartoli earlier in the tournament and is the right call, and 2) The things Serena said to Ms. Asderaki were disgusting and some of Young’s comments weren’t much better, even if the USTA is a bunch of fools that haven’t realized the serve and volley is dead (as they seem to be).

  26. Nina September 12, 2011 at 10:33 PM #

    – Every player gets bad calls – the good players learn how to deal with it in a professional manner. For every bad call made against one of the Williams sisters, you’ll also find a similar bad call made for their opponent.

    – This wasn’t a bad call, & neither was it an ‘exotic’ rule. Serena was fined for the same lack of courtesy to her opponent (which is what it amounted to) in Doha last year. She is well aware of this rule.

    – There are many tennis players of all nationalities to admire – players who have risen out of poverty and destitution to make it at the top of their game. You portray tennis as this refined world of snobbery and racism. I would say that the majority of tennis players today in no way represent the upper class, or even the middle class. For tennis players hailing from Serbia, Russia, Bulgaria etc, tennis was a way of escaping untenable life circumstances.

    – For all players, their rise to the top has been due to hard work, grit, and determination. Qualities that I hugely admire. What I don’t admire, in any athlete, is graceless, unsporting behaviour. I don’t care which player it is – Serena’s tirade is unacceptable. My sister plays juniors tournaments every week, and competes to a very high standard. If she pulled that kind of attitude, my parents would remove her from the court. Any player that behaves in that manner is a disgrace to the sport. ‘Understandable & amusing’ it was not. But maybe I’m wrong in finding verbal abuse to be unamusing.

    – “We’re in America now”. My parents also wouldn’t let my sister spew racist, nationalist sentiment either.

  27. Abby September 13, 2011 at 12:50 AM #

    I finally understand Serena- she’s one of those that believes someone is a hater just for disagreeing with her. I’ve known such types and it is just a one-way argument with them. And she really has no place to say such things to an umpire for just performing her duty. I’m an avid tennis player who knows the rules and have seen too many matches to know what Serena did, to yell in that way before the opponent strikes the ball, is a violation. Let me be clear- it is not the same as when players grunt, moan, shriek, ah-hee’s (shiavone), when hitting the ball. It is clear she yelled after her stroke and just when Stouser was about to make a swing. It is a point violation clear and simple in the rules of tennis.

  28. george September 13, 2011 at 4:56 AM #

    This a a joke right? Serena is among the worst behaved athletes in the game of tennis. Whe is a poor winner and a worse loser – though this year was better than usual for her.

    She is an amazing tennis player – smart strong and fast. But she lacks any empathy with her fellow players. When she loses its usually because someone mistreated her or she played poorly – not the result of being outplayed.

    I don’t buy the race thing for a second. Show me a Serena Williams that behaves like NAdal or Federer – and I will show you someone who gets more respect

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 5:17 AM #

      Show you a Serena who behaves like a white man or a European man and she’ll get more respect? Point proven.

      And did you watch this match? She was nothing but gracious to Stosur. She consistently said that Stosur played better, both in her comments after the match and in her interview. In the clip below she is unapologetic about her outburst, but absolutely congratulatory to Stosur. Get your facts straight.

  29. Morag Eyrie September 13, 2011 at 5:54 AM #

    @George must be joking. Roger Federer is one of the worst ‘sports’ and sorest losers in elite sport. See his behaviour in his after-match interviews only the day before Serena’s final. He has regularly stolen Nadal’s ‘moment’ and suled publicly over losing, yet because he is the archetypal upperclass white tennis icon it gets ignored and excused; his status ad a ‘gent’ apparently excuses all. I’m pleased he had been called on it slightly more this time, but it is.bittersweet as a Nadal fan, because it is Djokovic’s very whiteness that had allowed it. I have watched the racist responses to Nadal for years amongst the elite tennis world- they.have more deniability with Nadal because in Europe, ‘Spanish’ is officially white, but there is really no other explanation for Nadal’s treatment. I keep meaning to write post about this- this excellent post on Serena may give me the added push. Thank you.

  30. Morag Eyrie September 13, 2011 at 6:11 AM #

    Apologies for errors in previous comment- my phone’s screen is misbehaving! Just wanted to add that I am a fan of Serena (and Venus), but I did think her behaviour crossed the line this time, until I read your post and some of the commentary here and elsewhere. Ultimately I don’t think anyone should speak to anyone the way she spoke to that ref, but the wider crunkfeminist context you’ve given is invaluable. I remain a fan, which is more than I can say for my feelings about Federer.

    • Dannette September 13, 2011 at 10:52 PM #

      i’m so glad someone finally said it! roger federer is the king of the back-hand compliment. he’s often snide and smug, insulting his opponents and trying to be slick about it. he isn’t even always gracious in victory, let alone defeat. and he universally gets a pass. it drives me nuts! i also really don’t like how much of andy roddick’s behavior goes without comment. he’s routinely abusive and just nasty, but people don’t seem to mind too much. it’s always easy to understand his “frustration”, in some context or another. so annoying!

  31. Heather September 13, 2011 at 8:22 AM #

    I am so shocked and stunned that there are people who still think like the OP; that is OBSESSED with RACE and COLOUR and seeing *only* race and colour and believing that black anger is different from white anger – wtf???

    All I and others see ( is a person who can’t look further than the skin colour of their favourite player and makes excuses for them because apparently, black anger is different from the rest of the human race (rolls eyes). I and many others all around the world are weary of sport because some people like the OP play the race card and victim card to brow-beat opponents. Its not fair. Its not nice, and its not good sportswomanship. If you look for racism in everything to suit your agenda and to excuse your actions, behaviour, performance etc, as a ready made excuse which the OP obviously does since they think skin colour changes a human being’s ‘anger’, you will find it. All 99% of the fair-minded world saw was a racist spoiled brat who uses her power and status and her skin colour to browbeat others. Its meant to be a game. Its no longer fun when people throw their weight and skin colour around to bully others. The fact that the OP looks for racism as their get out of jail victim card and believes African Americans should be treated differently because despite all being human beings, members of the human race, the pigmentation of their skin means they have ‘different anger’ (the whole concept sounds like something the KKK would come up with to explain why African-Americans are ‘different’ to whites) is WHY people are turning against Serena (not Venus who is talent and class all the way) and are weary of people like her and the OP. Its bullying and racism. And that oozes out of the pores of the OP and Serena is racism and using that to excuse their behaviour. Human beings are human beings, we are but ONE race. The human race. Colour is NOT an excuse, whether you be black, or white, for your behaviour. And people like the OP truly are what is setting the cause of African-Americans back centuries and they don’t even realise it. The attitude of the OP and their ilk is absolutely disgusting. Now the OP and the other racists on here who think their skin colour buys them an excuse out of everything can come on and get butthurt by the truth and thus snark me as much as they want. I clicked on here through a tweet hashtag and I won’t be back. The attitude of the Op is absolutely disgusting and I refuse to give hits to people that propagate the race card and expect different treatment.

    If you keep seeing race in everything, the only person who suffers is you as you close yourself off from reality and from others. Skin colour is NOT a victim card or an excuse for bratty behaviour. Rather; that type of self-serving racism is a self-fullfilling prophecy, as when you propagate that form of self-entitled racism, you encourage racism against you for the fact that your behaviour is racist. Its a defeatist position to take. Colour is nothing, underneath our skin, our anger and behaviour is all the same. Emotions are colourblind. Any other stance is propagating racism. Take responsibility instead of crying racism and using the race card as a cheap and easy out. Look in yourself and see your own racism. It starts with you.


    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 9:11 AM #

      It must be terrible to be so damn sanctimonious and so utterly wrong at the same time.

      I would defend myself against your charges of racism –which basically equates to “racists are defined as people who call out racism in others,” except that by implication your argument [not to mention your ridiculouslessly irrational rant] makes you a…yeah, you guessed it.– but I’ve learned that sanctimony often precludes reason, so why waste my time?

  32. natasiarose September 13, 2011 at 8:29 AM #

    I appreciate the argument this article is making and the points it lays out. It’s a lot to think about.

    I do think that the Williams’ sisters have had to deal with racism in their sport. However, that doesn’t excuse everything Serena said and did during that match. Two wrongs don’t make a right. You can’t say “There is racism in the sport of tennis, so it’s okay when Serena Williams mocks a referee’s looks.”

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 9:04 AM #

      But I can say, there is racism in the sport of tennis, so when Serena acts in ways that are unappealing, perhaps there is more going on than her simply being a jerk. And that is what I have said. And I stand by it.

      I’d also point out the larger point of this piece is true without or without Serena’s outburst at the open. The piece critiqued the commentators racism, and every example I gave about them had nothing to do with Serena’s outburst.

  33. Nikita September 13, 2011 at 8:43 AM #

    Anger is normal. Most folks say things that they don’t mean when angry. Those things when they are by black folks are taken and changed into something extraordinary. We cannot keep up this we are super human beings when we know dang well that folks who are not POC get away with this and worse and get away with it. Does racism become to much at time for folks to handle, yes. She snapped and went for it. It happens. The carnage is over – move on. Should have been a non-issue, but because she is black in a mostly white world – where folks do get to show out when angry and move on – because she and Venus usually do just move on and let things go, she snapped, it got caught on tape and folks are trying to hold them to a different standard. Frankly it IS wrong, but it is what has happened to POC for years and years. Don’t get angry and pretend it doesn’t hurt, mean mug and make it happen – deal with the psychological consequences years later ie slavery and its many lingering issues. That is crazy. She got angry, she acted out. Oh my God she is human!! Let’s let it go. Should have never become such an issue in the first place. Just somebody trying to prove that this is the reason why black folks don’t belong in a sport or situation wher class is needed even though there are countelss examples of what is not true at all.

  34. James September 13, 2011 at 9:04 AM #

    I’m not really sure why my comment didn’t get approved; I know feminist blogs get a lot of hateful trolls, I apologize if I sounded like one.

    • James September 13, 2011 at 9:40 AM #

      Oops, it seems it was approved, I somehow missed it twice. Oh well, the new version I wrote is much clearer and better written anyway.

  35. Tennispro September 13, 2011 at 9:30 AM #

    Listen to yourselves…. the call was correct. She couldn’t accept it, threw a fit, and deserved much more punishment than she got. This article is a race card play. McEnroe got his in his day and also deserved it. Problem is many of his tantrums were calls that were incorrect. Ironically, while commentating sSunday, he defended his look at the rule and he favored Serena. Truth is, if a player intentional yells it is a hinderance to the opponent. Excuse me, but I didn’t see the straight pin that cause her yelp. Classless, spoiled, disrespectful, arrogant… those descriptions come to mind, not black or unnatural. I suppose she didn’t foot fault in 2009? Stosur had the talent and deserved the win. Talent is what we all she focus on and Serena does have that. I am proud of her ability, not her personality. She reminds me of the kids throwing fits before a beauty contest, pushed by rich parents that care little about the child. Once the kid gets on stage they change to an angel. What a fake! I play tennis on a competitive basis. No one would get by with this behavior at my level. Read the rule book and abide by it. Simply said, I would rather be hated for what I am – than loved for what I am not. So love on… but be aware this woman is supposed to be a role model for our future ladies of tennis. Don’t condone bad behavior- regardless of skin color. The message you send to our children nurture hate- the very thing you are trying to call out here. As for “White anger is entertaining; Black anger must be contained” , where’s the white college fund… or Miss White America. Jes’ C… hang your hat on some other crutch.

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 9:57 AM #

      We didn’t say the call was incorrect. Rather I advocated that they should have replayed the point. The ref, from what I understand, had the discretion to do so.

      And since I don’t look to celebrities to be role models for any children that I might have, and because I don’t think that Serena or Venus’ job is to teach other tennis players how to be “ladies,” then of course I disagree with the rest of your comment.

      Thanks for reading.

  36. James September 13, 2011 at 9:35 AM #

    To try again:

    I’ve never posted on a feminist blog before, I believe feminists know a whole lot more about feminism, and quite frankly there is little to nothing I could add that would be interesting to people who devote their lives to the topic. I’m 100% every person who regularly reads this blog would at best think, “That dude needs to do some research.” I think the comparisons the writer makes in this post comparing McEnroe and Roddick and Serena are very strong, I’ve seen male writers try to tease out small differences to defend their beloved Johnny Mac, and I don’t see it at all.

    With that said, it does seem like I know more about tennis than the writer, in at least one specific way, and I thought I’d bring that knowledge to bear. In a tennis setting, the word ‘intentional’ does not mean, well, intentional. We can all think of words that mean goofy things in a legal and official setting, and this is another example. It simply means that the player herself did the action; it does not in any way attempt to get at the actor’s purpose. (For proof, see It’s surprisingly hard to find tennis rules online, so I’m sorry the website looks kinda shabby. Also they use the word deliberate instead of intentional for some reason, but its the same idea) The example given on that website, and most other times the rule comes up is in doubles. If I give my partner advice too loudly, the point goes to the opponents, even though I only wanted my partner to run to the net. One could argue, I suppose, that the umpire should have been lenient in such an important match, but once Stosur complained, I feel she basically had to follow the letter of the law.

    This is important because it changes the nature of her actions; she’s not fighting against injustice when she makes those statements.

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 9:55 AM #

      I didn’t dispute the call. I disputed the refs decision not to allow the replay of the point. From what I understand she had the discretion to do so, and this is where intent matters. If Serena, “intentionally” and “deliberately” tried to distract her opponent, then the point should have been taken away. If, however, in the heat of the moment, she yelled out excitedly because of a point she already thought she won (and this is what happened), then yes she still violated the rule, but replay the ding dang point, especially an important point such as this one.

      • James September 13, 2011 at 10:15 AM #

        Well, if you only kinda dispute the ruling, I don’t understand your defense of Serena, but that’s getting specifically into the feminism, which, as I said, I am underqualified to discuss, so I will bid you adieu.

      • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 10:25 AM #

        Well, the post wasn’t just about Serena. It was about the larger issue of racism in tennis. I actually had planned to write the post before Serena’s outburst.

  37. mlblogsamericansoldier September 13, 2011 at 9:49 AM #

    You MUST be kidding. Ms. Williams didn’t even receive a slap on the wrist, and she’s making a good spectacle of herself…a female John McEnroe. Of course, liberal feminism will see the “Racist attack” on all sides that disagree with them. Spare me your lack of logic or common sense.

    I love the way you showed sympathy on that horrible line judge…the one who makes $250.00/day to put up with Ms. Williams embarrassing herself. To top that off, Williams LOST the Open – Maybe she should take that out on herself, and go yell at herself in the mirror. No…she won’t bother – Time for another line of dresses to show off, or Hollywood buds to hang out with.

    Ms. Williams is just one of many “superstars” today that I’m SICK of. Incredibly enough, many of them are white. I see the way they show their character…not their skin.

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 10:26 AM #

      No trolling allowed. Your last comment was trashed. Do it again and you’ll be blocked entirely.

  38. Nikita September 13, 2011 at 10:15 AM #

    Thanks. You are welcome. NEXT.

  39. theHotness Grrrl September 13, 2011 at 10:35 AM #

    Loved this piece! If anyone has watched the Williams sisters since they first hit the courts and read some of the early articles printed about them they would know that they have surely been consistently maligned by racism within the USTA and out. Hearing commentators call Serena “classless” for losing her cool just made me cringe yesterday as I NEVER heard them use that word when McEnroe would go ape. As far as I’m concerned this was just another example of how the language around Serena’s rant reflects deeper issues of ignorance and racism. Big-up for keeping it crunk!

  40. crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 11:28 AM #

    Another excellent piece from our friends over at NewBlackMan:

  41. Pam C September 13, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

    I have to respectfully disagree with your views. In my 40 years of tennis I have never seen two sorer losers than Serena and Venus. Yes, they are phenomenal athletes and yes, at times it’s just whack and roar tennis-no real strategy at all. Serena is a brat, an abusive brat. Her tone is awful. Her lack of professionalism in prematch interviews is laughable. It is not the color of her skin that makes mine crawl, it’s her sheer disrespect of her sport and failing to understand there are little kids waiting on her every move so they can “do what Serena says she does.” Let’s hope they don’t.

    • crunktastic September 13, 2011 at 11:59 AM #

      So if you’ve been watching tennis for forty years then you watched Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe? And you think Serena (and Venus!) are worse? Clearly that’s ridiculous.

      If you’re interested, here’s another blog piece that demonstrates just how ridiculous (and racist) this outrage toward the sisters is.

  42. jordnd September 13, 2011 at 12:15 PM #

    So, perhaps I am only repeating what has shown up in comments preceding mine (I chose not to read them.) But, like you say, the narrative of the Williams sisters, as constructed and fed by commentators and many tennis writers, is borderline outrageous and highly offensive. Although both play huge roles in their generally negative public perceptions, I’m often split between whether their gender or their race is more responsible for their being so unpalatable to so many. I’ve noticed that athletic women are treated especially harshly by commentators, their bodies are marked out and dissected in curatorial tones, while smaller women (henin is prime example of this) are held up as ideals of craft and tennis skill. The idea that physical force/athletic ability and intelligence cannot be co-present is one of sports’ commentating’s pet fallacies for the WTA.

  43. tennischick September 13, 2011 at 3:52 PM #

    “White anger is entertaining; Black anger must be contained.” Perfect summary of a well-written article. Thanks for inviting me to read it.

    I’m glad that you acknowledged that Sam was indeed playing a winning game. The problem lies not with the outcome of this match but with the history of incredible difficulties that Serena Williams has had to endure as a professional tennis player. It’s to her credit that she still plays tennis at all. A mentally more fragile individual would long have abandoned the sport. Let’s keep giving her our loving support so that she can stick around and keep breaking records.

  44. The Dude September 13, 2011 at 4:40 PM #

    She broke a rule. She broke another when she was disrespectful to the ref. She knew doing both was a violation of previously published rules that she was aware of and had agreed to abide by upon entering the court.

    Then when called out on her breaking of the rules, she threatened the ref’s physical safety.

    It seems like Zerlina excuses this type of behavior. Is this because Serena is black and a woman and does not have to play by the same rules as others, by virtue of the fact that she is black and a woman, thereby a doubly protected class?

    Is breaking the rules and threatening the ref over it sportswomen-like behavior? Is this what we want our kids to do . . . is it something we want to excuse?

    I think the lesson here is that you can’t criticize a black woman or punish her for violating the rules, because if you do so you’re racist and sexist and somehow afraid of her.

    Why is it blacks feel they deserve to be held to a lower standard than everyone else?

  45. jean-philippe September 13, 2011 at 6:37 PM #

    You’re right that most Black athletes are not treated fairly but too many of them, including Serena, forget they are role models not only for kids playing the same sports and all kids watching them. Kids shouldn’t learn that bullying is a great way to get what you want or that a golfer can cheat on his wife a hundred women.

  46. Gretchen Atwood September 13, 2011 at 10:52 PM #

    Excellent points in the post and some great food for thought in the comments as well. I’ll add a few points, too.

    1) It seems that when people read a critique of a system of power they often interpret that as a defense of an individual’s behavior. I see this a lot with commentary on Michael Vick. Why can’t people separate that out or is it that people respond that way so as to not have to deal with the discomfort of the critique itself?

    2) In some of the earlier comments a few people seem to equate a call for equal treatment with a call for special treatment. This is used ad nauseam by opponents of gay marriage. It often seems this dynamic is driven by the unstated desire of the person with privilege to preserve the status quo.

    For example: PWP says they agree with the concept of equality. Then they say that someone asking for what they have is wanting “special treatment.” This makes sense in their own heads because they are not seeing their own privilege and either think things are already equal or only support equality, as many do, when it requires little sacrifice or change on their part.

    3) Some of the best known civil rights advocates of a century ago argued that black success on the athletic field would yield greater social equality. What they underestimated was the illogical nature of -isms and -phobias and how impervious they can be to rational argument.

    Black boxers were considered too cowardly to be a threat to white heavyweights at the turn of the 20th century. Then Jack Johnson destroyed his caucasian counterparts. Instead of racists using that outcome to challenge their belief systems they simply interpreted the outcome to *support* rather than challenge their ideology–Jack Johnson won because of his “jungle savagery”. Similar situation with Jesse Owens. Eugenicists claimed African American sprinters had inherent physical advantages, such as a longer heel bone, which rationalized the runner’s success so as to avoid the conclusion that Owens was any white man’s equal. (Or superior!)

    The tendency to dismiss or rationalize the Williams sisters’ success is a more subtle but direct descendent of what these athletes faced and the underlying purpose is to support a belief in racial inequality. That, to me, is part of how structural racism works. It’s not just the specifics of what is happening now but how it is connected to our history.

    In the world of sports there have been several other ways structural racism has resisted black equality. If African-Americans are good at a sport a) ban them as black jockeys were banned in thoroughbred racing b) claim their victories come from physiological advantages c) claim their victories are a result of a greater-physical-skill-equals-diminished-intellect equation d) dismiss their sport as merely entertainment so their abilities are not a basis for believing in their equality e) change the rules.

  47. Web Dessai September 14, 2011 at 12:46 AM #

    Serena was wrong as are all of the other over-privileged millionaires who act like babies on the court. No thoughtful person ever celebrated any of those babies for acting out on the court and Miss Williams should not be excused for making a fool of herself.

    • Mr.Ruffin September 14, 2011 at 8:21 AM #

      She didn’t make a fool of herself, she was 100% right to be upset at a poor judgement call on behalf of the umpire, with whom she’s had run-ins before. Perhaps you should understand the context better before passing judegment.

  48. Shara September 14, 2011 at 8:12 AM #

    This journalist was right on point with her overall assessment of the overt & offesnsive racism toward the Williams sisters & other black athletes. It angers me that so many still refuse to acknowledge the unacceptable level of such racism in the sport & the country as a whole. We have a lot of work to do in this country.

  49. Mr.Ruffin September 14, 2011 at 8:19 AM #

    The Williamses get a raw deal. They are dehumanized in a lot of ways, but I am also glad that they are the one who broke through in womens tennis. They thick skinned and tough, and are probably the only people who could handle the scrutiny. They still dominate inspite of the hate they get in their own country. Serena is a bit of a drama queen, but so are a ton of WTA players. She doesn’t get the respect someone of her record deserves. At least Carillo and Evert give her credit for being the most dominant force in women’s tennis, and probably the most dominant ever. Pam Shriver is the worst. She and Mary Jo Fernandez (both marginal players in comparison to Serena and Venus) don’t even like to give her proper credit. As a tennis fan, Patrick McEnroe has been right about Donald Young. His parents have held his game back, and he hasn’t been able to harness his considerable talents until now. He is a black player, but sometime the criticism is warranted. But doesn’t have the record that the Williamses have. John McEnroe has actually been outspoken about the need to bring more inner city athletes into tennis, in order to save American tennis. His brother Patrick has been an establishment USTA guy.

  50. Gretchen Atwood September 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM #

    I also think that Serena getting called for many more foot faults than others symbolizes what she is actually getting punished for; not toeing the line of the establishment.

  51. enimen September 14, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

    Does ANYONE have footage of Martina Navratilova at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game when she described the game as “a bunch of black guys” (or something to that effect)?

  52. Donald Darko September 14, 2011 at 1:33 PM #

    I thought Serena was being the racist that day. Wow. way to turn the tables JIDF

  53. Required September 14, 2011 at 1:42 PM #

    Feminists defending two women who have enough testosterone in them they could almost be classified men. Oh the ironing.

  54. A September 14, 2011 at 3:20 PM #

    Thanks for the very thoughtful article! I’m sorry you’ve received so many shit comments from people who don’t understand or acknowledge the fact of institutional racism. :-\

    I find it hilarious and disheartening that people don’t understand why commentators’ frequent references to the Williams’ success being a result of natural athleticism is racist. EVERY PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE IS A NATURAL ATHLETE, or they wouldn’t fucking be a top-level professional athlete. To reach that level you must be a natural athlete AND a hard worker, though the latter is certainly underplayed in the media regarding the Williams sisters.

    Re: commentators – I was also disgusted by Chris Evert and her unending critique of the female players’ body shapes. Women with larger bodies were frequently labeled as having “un-athletic body types” – what the hell does that even mean? These women are athletes – professional, top 20 ranked athletes. Their bodies are clearly athletic, regardless of what they look like. JFC. Next year I’m going to be forced to watch the whole damn thing on mute.

  55. Bay Area Food Blog September 14, 2011 at 5:05 PM #

    Right on! As an Asian American, we get the racism from the other side. Absolutely no athletic accomplishment is because of talent or even the hard work of the individual. They are all because the magic Asian discipline. It can come from a communist athletic system (which is so much less humane than the U.S athletic system). It can come from controlling parents. It can come from Confucius. But it will never be because Asians might be good at anything. Different flavors but the same crappy racism.

  56. Required September 14, 2011 at 7:27 PM #

    Come on now; conflating racist commentary from analysts and the USTA is one thing; of Serena’s actions, hold her responsible for her behavior! Analyst and the USTA no doubt act with some bias. Excusing or rationalizing Serena’s bullying behavior, not only detracts from the real racism that exists, but it acts to excuse her and it enables her to continue to behave like this. Ask yourself this: would you want to be on the receiving end of her behavior for doing your job, and essentially prohibited from responding to it because of your position as a professional? If tennis were a team sport, she would have been kicked out of the game; because it is an individual sport, to do so would have ended proceedings.

    Serena brings a lot of ill will toward her on herself through her utter ignorance, arrogance, senses of entitlement and victimhood, plain and simple. I play and watch a lot of tennis, and I have seldom been a fan of Serena’s, except when she’s on the comeback trail, but I admire her abilities. (By contrast, Venus is far and away my favorite female player). So I went into this match rooting for her, because in the debate over who the best female player is of all-time she is probably the best and now needs more slams to back up that claim. I immediately changed my mind after her outburst. The outburst reminded me of all the reasons it’s so hard to like her or root for her. And, by the way, she has yelled “come on” before a point was finished in a match with the SAME referee and was warned about it; she immediately apologized because she knows the rule [video:

    As for the time between her matches, this is a bit of a stretch. Her match was scheduled to start within an hour of her eventual opponent’s, but was delayed because of the men’s match that preceded it. Still, her semifinal match was not that taxing for her and a 4:30 PM match gave her ample time to rest and be ready. Stosur physically had a much tougher match on the same day, so it’s hard to argue Stosur had a bigger physical advantage. Serena simply ran into an opponent who was on that day and wasn’t afraid to match her shot-for-shot.

    I have read a lot of the ugly commentary written about Serena and Venus on blogs and article posts and know that the jealousy and hatred of them is real. But Serena does herself no favors when she behaves so boorishly. The fact is Serena was losing, and for her second consecutive US Open, her temper and anger contributed to her losing the chance at the title. She has no one to blame but herself. That had nothing to do with racism.

    • crunktastic September 14, 2011 at 7:50 PM #

      3 things:

      1st, Just because I didn’t condemn her actions doesn’t mean I condone them; it means I think larger issues are at stake.
      2nd, you seem to be arguing that racism doesn’t excuse bad behavior. To me that’s an easy position to take, and one that I agree with in some cases. However, I would argue the converse, namely that Serena’s bad behavior doesn’t excuse racism. And this post was about the larger issues of racism, a critique which is true with or without a discussion of Serena’s outburst. They have been treated badly for over a decade. It’s easy to begin focusing on her outbursts as a way to not have a serious critique of the unpleasant and unfair conditions under which they often play. It’s harder to think about how you would act if you consistently got unfair calls at the Open. Remember that in ’04 they did disinvite a ref for giving Serena blatantly bad calls in a quarterfinals match with Capriati that she ended up losing. (scroll up for link.)
      3rd, I didn’t dispute the call. I simply argue that the point should’ve been replayed.

  57. Stefaan Vanopdemaan (@StefaanOpdemaan) September 14, 2011 at 11:10 PM #

    So you say first they have brought power and speed to bear in ways that used to be relegated to the men’s game. But are you telling us this is all from training, and Daniela Hantuchova would have the same body if only she trained harder? Or can we say it’s natural power only when they’re white, like Mary Pierce and Mauresmo. Because stating facts is racist if these facts happen to coincide with stereotypes?

    Black folks—men and women—are still largely understood within a narrative of brute, undisciplined physical strength. Let’s find some quotes about Yannick Noah: “Tennistalent. Charmer. Clown. Entertainer. Protagonist. Crowd favourite”, “Yannick Noah again thrilled the crowd”, NY Times 1988: Who’s the most exciting tennis player? Yannick Noah of France dazzles the crowd with his diving shots, especially those between his legs. With all of Johnny Mac’s antics, Noah’s flair (and hair) makes him one level above the rest. Or is he an exception? What did those haters say about Chanda Rubin? Alexandra Stevenson should be less of a problem I guess, judging from a blog entry about her match against Ahsha Rolle also involving this “little known” point hinderance rule.

    White anger is entertaining, the tribute to Connors proves it. So you are telling us that in those days commentators approved of his behaviour? And only black women get this kind of treatment? How about Martina Hingis: “After the match, spectators booed the diminutive diva off the court, and resumed the hissing when she returned for the trophy presentation, crying uncontrollably in her mother’s arms.” The press: “Everything from her high hairline to her mental state was fair game. Seasoned sports writers like Diane Pucin and Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times criticized the color scheme of her clothing. Pucin even suggested that Adidas should introduce a new line of crying towels for tennis players. John McEnroe called her “a basket case.”

    Yes, there are examples of questionable calls against Serena, everybody knows. That the great thing about making a scene, people remember. Even when the call was justified, people remember the controversy. Those players who behave don’t have that advantage.

    • crunktastic September 15, 2011 at 6:53 AM #

      On the call itself, if the rule required taking away the point, so be it. But I can concede that and still be well-justified in my critiques of racism, because my argument was in fact NOT that the ref’s call was racist, but simply that her choice to take away the point was questionable. Even Carillo and McEnroe didn’t understand her ruling, and if these tennis vets and commentators didn’t understand it, it makes sense to me that Serena would have been puzzled and pissed off.

      Also, as many other commenters have noted, white players act a fool with refs all the time, Andy Roddick being one example, and they are rarely publicly censured and derided. It’s seen as entertainment. So my point about Connors was not that his behavior was acceptable but rather that the USTA chose to celebrate that very behavior in their tribute to Connors. If the behavior is so odious, why spotlight it?

      Finally, you seem to believe that racism is only present if every black player has been discriminated against –but Chanda Rubin was not considered a threat. The Williams Sisters changed the way the game was played, and Pam Shriver, Chris Evert and Mary Carillo all were highly resistant to their style and outright biased in their criticisms.

      A better gauge would be to think about the collective presence and success of other Black players in the last decade. As you mentioned, Chanda Rubin, but also James Blake, Scoville Jenkins, Donald Young, and the new player Sloane Stephens. All of these folks, with the exception of Blake who has been fairly successful and Stephens who is too new to tell, have largely come and gone without making a splash. Talent has something to do with it. But environment, access, and racial hostility play an important role as well.

      I won’t go back and forth with you about individual instances of white players being bad-mouthed because that’s a bad way to dispute charges of systemic racism. It’s like the person who claims that racism doesn’t exist because they can point to the one white person they know who was treated badly by Black people. Having those kinds of arguments are exhausting and they miss the point. But if you are interested, here’s another post that does some heavy lifting in terms of contextualizing the operations of racism and sexism in tennis.

  58. LaGuru September 15, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

    I enjoyed Crunktastic’s responses to some of the comments even more than the original post. PLUS, she kept providing links, facts and videos to support her argument.

    Points I hope that EVERYBODY gets:

    “And calling someone racist for calling out the operations of racism is poor argumentation.”

    Show you a Serena who behaves like a white man or a European man and she’ll get more respect? Point proven.

    Just so right, AND so funny:

    It must be terrible to be so damn sanctimonious and so utterly wrong at the same time.

  59. MediAfritiQ September 16, 2011 at 5:42 AM #

    I am not even into sports but wow! The play and replay of the whole Serena situation was a little too much i think threatening the ref was a little too much, but it seems like Serena was really hurt and by all means she showed her feelings. If she was courteous to her opponent then thats ok. I am a feminist myself and I can see the disparity in the tribute to Jimmy Connors and the opposite reaction towards Serena. Great post. Keep them coming

  60. kq September 16, 2011 at 5:25 PM #

    So I just read through your article and the hundred or so posted responses and ive got to say, the whole serena incident has NOTHING to do with racism and it only takes away from the legitimacy of the dialogue around racism/sexism in professional sports to frame it in that light…

    that being said, I know your article is way bigger than that, and that essentially serena’s recent outburst isn’t at the heart of it. however your title begins: “refereeing serena” and as a writer you know how significant a title is as far as determining who reads your article, why they read it, and how it is interpreted. i think that’s probably why 85% of the responses focus on that aspect of your article, even if that isn’t your overall thesis. just sayin.

    • crunktastic September 16, 2011 at 8:57 PM #

      Racism and sexism play a critical role in Serena’s entire career from her opportunities to even become a grand slam champ to the calls she gets in matches to the ways she is perceived on and off the court. So while the call itself was most probably not racist although again it was certainly dubious, it and Serena’s reaction to it cannot be understood outside of a long history of other dubious and downright discriminatory calls at the U.S. Open. So I categorically reject your implicit argument that Serena’s bad behavior minimizes the legitimacy of my critique of racism among tennis officials and blog commenters. Tennis is racist no matter how the Williams Sisters behave.

      Second, you almost seem to suggest that my choice of title invites racist commentary. And you seem to suggest that I need to consider that the title has influenced the ways in which others have erroneously responded to my article. To that I say: reading is fundamental.

      • kq September 16, 2011 at 9:35 PM #

        absolutely reading is fundamental. i was actually thinking along those lines when i posted my reply. and i also absolutely agree that you cannot divorce race or sex from the conversation when talking about how serena (and venus for that matter) have come up in the world of tennis and have been critiqued, congratulated and ultimately constructed in the eyes of the media/world. however, im wary about always using race/sex as a schema to look at every single one of serena’s actions. she is a professional athlete who didn’t like a ref’s call and got pissed and acted kinda immaturely. it happens all of the time in every sport, and i honestly dont feel that the local or national media has played the angry black woman angle. that’s all. of course, i might be missing something, in which case, my bad.

  61. kq September 16, 2011 at 10:09 PM #

    ps – fox news does NOT count. 🙂

  62. janjanismyname September 30, 2011 at 9:01 AM #

    This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a subject that’s been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!



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