Serena Williams and the Politics of Hate(rs)
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
Following a first-round victory in the Brisbane International tournament, Serena Williams expressed her sentiments about tennis, sport, and her labor of unlove. “I mean, I don’t love tennis today, but I’m here, and I can’t live without it … so I’m still here and I don’t want to go anywhere any time soon,” she explained. “It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love; I’ve actually never liked sports, and I never understood how I became an athlete. I don’t like working out; I don’t like anything that has to do with working physically.” Williams comments, not surprisingly, elicited widespread commentary, most of which used her confession as a source of criticism and demonization.
In “Woe is Serena: Tennis star says she doesn’t love tennis,” Chris Chase criticizes Williams as narcissistic and otherwise incapable of being self-reflective and self-critical. While acknowledging her candor, he uses that candor as a source of condemnation:
From one view, her candor could be seen as refreshing. Here’s a top athlete discussing the delicate balance of passion and obligation and fear of the unknown. She’s revealing herself to the press, something she rarely has in the past. Then you step back and realize Serena has the least self-awareness of any great athlete of the past decade. Two years later, she can’t bring herself to acknowledge that she was wrong to threaten a lineswoman at the U.S. Open. She’ll likely never admit her actions in last year’s U.S. Open final crossed the line. Unless she gained some insight in the past four months, these quotes are selfish nonsense.
Chase, unwilling to limit the criticisms to the quote, rehashes and recycles those previous incidences that in his mind provide context for understanding Serena’s dislike of tennis. In other words, just as she violated the rules of tennis, just as she has been unable to apologize for her past missed deeds, and just as she hasn’t been able to acknowledge her own faults, these comments are construed as evidence of her deficiencies as a person and athlete. Chase goes on to argue:
Nobody is surprised Serena doesn’t like tennis. Like Andre Agassi before her, she seems to only love the winning and is willing to put up with what it takes to get there. The grind doesn’t interest her much. These aren’t new insights into her soul. The underlying tone isn’t that Serena is a reluctant sports hero, it’s that she’s able to be so much better than the rest of the tour without caring about the game like they do. Her “I don’t love tennis” quote isn’t a revelation, it’s a self-congratulatory declaration. It’s as if she’s saying, “Just imagine what I could do if I cared.
Pete Bodo, with “The real question facing Serena Williams,” expresses a bit more sympathy given Williams’ litany of injuries. Yet, he still concludes: “Serena’s problem appears to be that she likes the reward (celebrity and money) but not the process. She would like to win the Australian title and any number of other tournaments, but she hates having to go through the motions – you know, the long practice sessions, the diet, the gym workouts and even that messy business of playing matches. It’s not a good problem to have, at least not for an athlete.” Beyond the efforts to link her comments to selfishness and a sense of victimhood, several commentaries link her disinterest with tennis to her diverse interests (fashion specifically), as if that is a shortcoming.
Continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Serena Williams and the Politics of Hate(rs).