I was so relieved last week when Maria Sharapova was knocked out of the US Open. It was legitimate anxiety every time she advanced. For me, and perhaps for many of you, it’s more than just sports stanning. Celebrity is more than just who’s f-cking who and who’s not friends with the others. Sports too is more than just who wins and who loses. Especially in Maria’s case. Maria Sharapova, who doesn’t win nearly as much as Serena Williams, the Greatest Of All Time, made more money in endorsements than Serena Williams until only last year. Maria Sharapova was suspended for a doping violation and then supported on her comeback. Would Serena have been afforded the same generosity? The difference between Maria and Serena, and how they’re reported on and perceived, is bigger than a tennis court. It says something about the public court, about where we live.
Maria Sharapova has written a book about her life. It’s called Unstoppable. And in the book she talks about the woman who has stopped her, over and over and over again: Serena Williams, obviously. The Daily Mail published excerpts from Unstoppable yesterday, specifically a few parts where Maria shares her thoughts on Serena. Let’s see if you react with the same rage I did.
Maria beat Serena in 2004 and when she walked into the locker room afterwards, she heard Serena crying:
'I don't think she's ever forgiven me for it' – witnessing this 'low and vulnerable moment,' she writes. 'I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon. I think she hated me for taking something that she believed belonged to her. I think she hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment. But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She's never forgiven me for it.’
Did you make note of the word “skinny”. It’s a key word. It keeps coming up in other subtle ways. Like, in contrast to her own “skinniness”, here’s how she describes Serena:
“First of all her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching TV. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It's the whole thing – her presence, her confidence, her personality.”
Oh wait, we’re not done yet. Maria needs to top her serving of grossness with a flourish:
“Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl.”
Maria Sharapova, the little girl underdog, and Serena Williams, the “thick”, “intimidating” not-so-little, not-so-underdog menace – this is the picture that Maria Sharapova is painting, and it’s heinous. Also, it’s bullsh-t. You want to talk underdog? Both in tennis and in life, Maria Sharapova is the opposite of a f-cking underdog. In tennis and in life, on sidewalks and on the side of the road, in courtrooms and in classrooms, a black woman will always be a thousand times more the underdog than Maria f-cking Sharapova. The fact that she’s using physicality to build the fallacy that SHE was the one who’s been disadvantaged is irresponsible and reprehensible. Because this description is EXACTLY the kind of f-cksh-t that have set black women – and black people – back for generations: that whiteness is innocent and vulnerable, that blackness is threatening and mean. That on that tennis court, a little blonde girl was getting pushed around by a big black bully.
This is how you reduce a champion, the Greatest Of All Time, to a combination of body parts. This is how you undermine a legend’s mind and focus and preparation. This is how you undercut her achievements. This is how you reinforce assumptions and stereotypes. This is how you discriminate.
I hear that dog whistle, Maria Sharapova. Stop Maria Sharapova.