It’s Wimbledon time, time for the Williams sisters to once again demonstrate that they are the greatest American players of their generation, and perhaps the best ever, and since it’s a Grand Slam, it’s also time for Serena to say something stupid.
This time she implied that although the Steubenville rape victim didn’t deserve it, maybe she did, sorta.
The Williams sisters should be easy to love. They’re fabulous athletes who’ve changed the way tennis is played. Between them they’ve won 96 titles. Both have been number one in the world numerous times. They have a great rags-to-riches story, rising from the decidedly un-country club like Compton to the top of the tennis world. When they were growing up, their father actually took them out of national tournaments so they could concentrate on schoolwork. How rare is that in tennis, a sport particularly prone to insane-parent-syndrome?
Serena should be especially lovable. She’s beautiful with a radiant smile. She’s engaging, with a goofy, eye-popping sense of fashion that gleefully ignores the dimensions of her body. Indeed, she should be a role model that shows full-figured girls they don’t have to look like a ten year old boy to be successful in sports. She’s won 31 Grand Slam titles, which puts her eighth all time and more or less fourth in the modern era. She’s got four Olympic medals. She’s been number one six times.
When she’s on, her tennis is absolutely transcendent, as she doesn’t win as much as she obliterates opponents. Yesterday she won 6-1 and 6-3, and apologized for dropping that game in the second set, claiming she was rusty from practicing too much on clay. In a time when American tennis has been decidedly mediocre and the American men especially so, Serena and her sister Venus have single-handedly (or double-handedly) given American fans someone to root for.
But Serena’s just too hard to love. She’s notoriously crabby, as detailed by numerous competitors. She’s surly and prone to make nasty comments. She’s physically threatened officials and competitors not once, but twice, and now she’s shown herself to be a petty bigot with the Steubenville comments. Even by the not very high standards of tennis etiquette, think Connors and McEnroe, Serena is a nasty piece of work.
So instead of dancing in the living room when she unleashes another jaw dropping serve, we nod politely, acknowledging her greatness rather than celebrating it. Her defenders argue that racism is endemic to tennis and that much of what we hear about Serena must be viewed through that lens. Maybe, but that argument is less than compelling for a young woman who’s won more money than any other in history ($40 million,) has a big contract with Nike, and lives in swanky places in West Palm Beach and Paris. Anyway, other African-American (and African-French) players don’t seem to have this problem.
The truth is that Serena Williams, like many celebrities, is a lout, a boor—a churlish, rude or unmannerly person. Perhaps it is because the uber-famous are coddled so much that they never learn the rudiments of manners. I once bumped into Steffi Graf in the Sonesta in Miami, or to be more correct, I bumped into her phalanx. She walked through the lobby of one of the most exclusive hotels in town literally surrounded by coaches and bodyguards who shoved the rest of us aside so she wouldn’t have to break stride. It’s hard to imagine how she’d learn much about normal life passing through life in that cocoon.
Perhaps it is because many people are louts, but most don’t have microphones in their faces continuously, just waiting for a little pearl of stupidity to drop. That is, maybe celebrities are no loutier than the rest of us, but we just don’t get caught at it.
She’s not alone. Tiger is a lout. Roger Clemens is a lout. Barry Bonds is a lout. Matt Birk is a lout. (Matt is the moronic football player who just declined a White House visit because he was incensed over something President Obama said, although he didn’t actually say it.) Kanye is a lout. Mel is a lout. Paula is—well Paula is something else. It’s a long, long list.
The real takeaway from the story is that we should probably just pay attention to Serena’s tennis, and ignore her views on the world, but that’s not easy. It’s not easy because we fans automatically identify with celebrities as people and because the celebrities’ marketing machines—post match interviews, commercials, PR, etc, encourage us to get to know them personally. Sadly, when we do, we often find ourselves disappointed.
Obviously, Serena isn’t going to change, so perhaps we should. When Serena opens her mouth and something nasty comes out, we should no longer be surprised.