Sunday, June 07, 2015

I say, anyone for tennis?

When I was a newbie at my favorite university in the United States, I found plenty of Americana to be absolutely fascinating, one of which was American football.  Within a matter of days, it seemed like, I was familiar with the rules of the game and was a passionate follower of the college and professional varieties--without ever having even touched a football!  Ah, those were some wonder years of my youth that have faded so rapidly!

The quarterback of the team was Rodney Peete, who had one of the best smiles ever.  A talented multi-sport guy, Peete chose football for good.  He duked it out with the crosstown rival, Troy Aikman and led USC to the Rose Bowl game.  Which is why I didn't understand a fellow graduate student's comment that Peete would not make it to the NFL.  The NFL and the fans, he explained, were racist to think that a black guy wouldn't have the abilities to quarterback.

That understanding of racism in American sports was also a part of the Americana that I have been following since.  This is a very strange country, to say the least!

But then that following January, Doug Williams became the first African-American quarterback to play in a Super Bowl and he and his team thrashed John Elway and his team with 42 unanswered points.  A black quarterback won the NFL!

Peete went on to the NFL, and had a moderately successful career, although nothing like Aikman's glorious years with Dallas.  Fast forward the years that I have been in the US.  I no longer care for sports.  There is no emotion invested anymore; I scan the news only to know who won and lost.

When I read that Serena Williams had won, again, my first thought was, "isn't she too old to play competitive tennis?"  And the next question was, "'how come she is not celebrated big time?"  Maybe the second question was because that has been analyzed quite a bit.

A year ago, after her victory at the US Open, the New Yorker noted:
Forget tennis for a moment, though: when I say the greatest athlete in a generation, I mean the greatest in any sport. Sorry, LeBron. Sorry, Tiger. Sorry, Derek. For fifteen years, over two generations of tennis, Williams has been a spectacular and constant yet oddly uncherished national treasure. She is wealthy and famous, but it seems that she should be more famous, the most famous. Anyone who likes sports should love Williams’s dazzling combination of talent, persistence, style, unpredictability, poise, and outsized, heart-on-her-sleeve flaws.
But not everyone loves her.
Why?  As Vox put it right in the headline, "Every Serena Williams win comes with a side of disgusting racism and sexism."  At least Peete didn't have to deal with sexism!
In the moments surrounding her win, Williams was compared to an animal, likened to a man, and deemed frightening and horrifyingly unattractive. One Twitter user who wrote that Williams "looks like a gorilla, and sounds like a gorilla when she grunts while hitting the ball. In conclusion, she is a gorilla." And another described her as "so unbelievably dominant...and manly".
 It is a bizarre world in which we live :(
"The racism raining down on Serena's victory parade highlights the nature of white supremacy ... her career has been one marred by the politics of hate, the politics of racism and sexism," Leonard wrote.
The racism that underlies the characterizations of her as hypersexual, aggressive, and animalistic, also means that when she dares to express frustration, she's stamped with the infamous "angry black woman" stereotype.
It's as bogus as the rest of the labels she's endured, but given the slights against her over the years, she has every right to be outraged.
A tweet stated it succinctly:
Actually you see a lot of demands that successful Black people be humble. That's left over from Jim Crow era etiquette.
Of course, things have changed.  The NFL now features plenty of non-White quarterbacks.  But, there is a long, long way to go before we can be free of racism and sexism in sports.

I, for one, am mighty impressed that Serena Williams continues to win even at the ripe old tennis age of nearly 34!  Awesome!


2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Serena Wlliams is completely awesome. In the super competitive world of women's tennis, she is the lone consistent star. She often plays opponents who were not even born when she won her first tournament. Forget the US - she is a mega star in Europe where tennis really lives. Tennis is long dead in the US !!

Racism will always exist, but in the US black sports stars greatly outnumber white ; so in some sports like basketball a sort of reverse racism features !

Sriram Khé said...

Whether or not tennis is dead in the US is immaterial. If at all, the lack of interest and support is all the more why Serena Williams' wins are awesome--she just keeps on going, and despite all the racist and sexist feedback that she gets.
BTW, according to the reports, Williams has been the target of nasty racist and sexist comments from Europeans too, where tennis is alive and well.

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