Opinion: Serena defies odds in sports standards

Tennis star faced public scrutiny following her actions on court at US Open

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons | American tennis star Serena Williams suffered a loss at the US Open on a controversial call, but she still remains a face of women’s tennis.

Two weeks ago, the greatest athlete in the world lost the US Open on a trumped up call — a deviation from the norm.

Serena Williams was accused of receiving coaching, an accusation that usually results in a verbal correction, then a warning and finally, the loss of a point. The chair umpire penalized Serena and cost her the game.

In the typical fashion of athletes who face an unfair or incorrect decision by a chair umpire, Serena contested.

In the heat of an athletic battle, the conversation between her and the umpire was not calm.

It was full of passion, motivated by the intensity of the sport and the desire to perform at the top of her game.

Examined as an isolated event, this seems like a run -of-the-mill protest of an unfair athletic call (see male tennis player Novak Djokovic arguing with same chair umpire in a previous game without penalty).

She is an athlete who is chasing success and will stop at nothing to achieve it. However, it is impossible to look at this moment as an isolated event.

Serena Williams has been at the center of so many controversies throughout her career. She has become a symbol of feminism — an intersectional feminism that people look up to but also can’t quite seem to understand.

Serena Williams stood for two things when she confronted the umpire. She stood for the challenges that women everywhere face every day, and she stood for the challenges that Black women everywhere face every day.

Women, particularly White women, struggle to be accepted as equals in most spaces, but it can be illustrated most clearly through Serena Williams trying to play tennis.

She competes to be the best in her field, but when she reaches that pinnacle she is told she is “too muscular” and no longer fits the mold for great women.

When she seeks the best performance gear — a competition body suit — she is banned from wearing it… for no articulated reason.

When she wears a pink tutu instead, she is passive aggressive. All Serena has ever tried to do is play tennis.

Black women struggle to be accepted in spaces at all. To make a space in the world as a Black woman is to face constant invalidation and hostile pushback.

In the sports arena, Serena has faced drug testing at twice the rate of her competitors, a higher level of news media and social media scrutiny and a unreasonable level of expected edict that has no historical or legislative foundations in the sport of tennis.

Serena has proven true the old adage that you must be twice as good to be half as respected and three times as good if you are a Black woman.

Serena Williams makes people uncomfortable because for 36 years she has refused to fit in any box.

Too muscular but still a compassionate mother. Too competitive but uneasily riled. Too successful but not cocky. Ill to the point of death but the top competitor a year later, she is calm, cool, collected and consistently at her prime.

For a society that understands meek and frail, emotional and tear-filled all as synonyms for “woman,” Serena is a truth that is not easily handled.

She is a symbol of the future that is to come, a future that is almost here: women, especially Black women, carving out a space in this world where they can not only exist as equals with men but thrive and bring our sisters with us.

By: Riley Head | A&E Editor