I was just about to post my entry about Melanie Oudin and ask why the small, blonde White tennis player has to be dubbed America's sweetheart when the Williams sisters fit most of the underdog profile ascribed to Oudin, except of course they are decidedly neither small, blonde nor White. So of course they won't be cast as America's anything, not when a non-negligible percentage of America is right now marching in the streets intent on showcasing themselves as the real America - you know, the part that's not brown. I was all set to talk about how the reason it's so easy to paint Oudin as a women's hero and laud her skill as unprecedented is that from the time the Williams sisters began to dominate women's tennis, many commentators didn't even see them as women's tennis heroes, because they hardly saw them as women. They dismissed a major part of their game as the natural result of mass and brawn - that thing Black athletes have naturally, rather than skill, which is what White athletes have. And many even began to tire of their domination on that basis: there go the Williams sisters again, beating all the regular people with their muscles and whatnot. It just isn't right!
(I was also interested in why any woman in sport has to be a sweetheart of any kind, and why we need to minimize women's strength and athleticism in favour of their 'more feminine attributes', as if it's ok that they run around and sweat and get all dirty, because behind it all, they're really little girls, so all is right with the universe.)
And then I saw Serena's outburst in her semi-final match against Kim Clijsters - the one that cost her the match - and I thought "well, this is not great." Because I thought that unfortunately, even though Williams has spent years in the game as an even-tempered sportswoman, gracious in defeat and downright charming in interviews, people are going to say "Well here comes the Compton now. It was only a matter of time." Am I cynical? Definitely. Am I wrong? Probably not. John McEnroe spent most of his career snarling at officials and beating his racquet to dust, and it became something of a joke: "oh that's just John!" But there's much less space for a woman to have an indecorous outburst, and a Black woman? Forget it. As we speak, I'm searching for match footage of spectators diving for cover or calling 911.
All accounts of Serena's conduct - that she threatened "I swear to God I'm [expletive] going to take this ... ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat" - suggest that she was completely out of order. If there were ever a time a player should suffer a point penalty for verbal abuse, I'd say this would be it. She lost her head, she threatened an official, and was rightly punished. It remains to be seen whether further punishment will follow, a possibility which would certainly stimulate argument over whether there's more behind the treatment of this incident than unsportswomanlike conduct, and whether the reaction would be the same if Serena happened to look different and/or didn't enjoy the status she does within the women's game. Serena herself isn't that apologetic, and seems eager to move on. I hope it's that simple, but I won't be surprised if it's not.