After being subjected to Henin-esque dishonesty from Martinez Sanchez at the French Open, Serena Williams delivered one of her more memorable quotes:
“I’m like one of those girls on a reality show that has all the drama,” she said “and everyone in the house hates them because no matter what they do, like, drama follows them.”
Right now those comments are ringing true as ever, with professional tennis currently closer resembling a trashy reality show rather than a sport, with a plot-line involving Serena never too far away. Here we are, now knee-deep in the inaccurately named off-season, and yet the drama is raging on like never before. First, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova’s father was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for smuggling cocaine, meth and weed; then former top 50 player Claudine Schaul was sentenced to 20 months in prison for, uh, also trafficking cocaine; Novak Djokovic then decided to dive head-first into the action by allegedly purchasing the planet’s entire supply of donkey cheese; and to top it all off, Karolina Wozniacka is now said to be an undercover member of the Polish branch of the KKK. Or something.
It has now been four whole days since Wozniacki decided to garner a few cheap laughs in an otherwise stale exhibition by impersonating Serena during her Brazil exhibition against Sharapova. As one could have easily anticipated, the joke involved the Dane stuffing her bra and butt with towels before looking mightily pleased with herself. Many laughed while others didn’t, but at the end of the day it was just a harmless joke, right? Apparently not. Instead, the story quietly made the rounds, slowly picking up momentum on social media sites. Three days after the exhibition match, Daily Fail caught wind of it, and the rest is history.
The overall reaction has been quite fascinating to me. Not just the initial reaction, but also the reactions to the reactions. On one side stands us, the tennis community. The view that most in the tennis community appear to take on this is (shockingly) summarized well by none other than Elizabeth Hasselbeck on The View. Much of these issues rest on context, which we on the inside are more than aware of. We all know that - as unfunny and tired as they can be - players do always impersonate of each other. This joke has already been attempted plenty of times including by Andy Roddick in a laughing Serena’s presence. We also understand the different relationships between the players involved these impersonations.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media with their sensationalizing and laughable lack of fact-checking skills or basic knowledge of tennis, have essentially created a narrative that paints Wozniacki as an unsuccessful blonde white girl who jealously decided to mock and degrade her more superior counterpart in her absence. From that perspective, outrage is actually probably the logical reaction, but of course this is the result of complete misinformation and lies which have culminated in Wozniacki being ridiculously vilified and abused for essentially an inside joke.
What was most interesting is actually how many tennis fans are just as oblivious to and dismissive of the racial stereotyping, criticism and degradation Serena has faced her entire career for her body type, as the media and non-tennis fans are to the tennis world. Big butts are indisputably a massively-stigmatized stereotype of black women, and one which dates from today in 2012 back to as far as slavery and colonial times. In short, this issue was not created just yesterday out of thin air and copying them in that manner can be problematic. If we hypothetically lived in a world where Serena was not the confident - for lack of a better word - diva we either love or loathe today, and was someone who was considered more sensitive and likelier to be offended by Wozniacki’s caricature of her body, this would likely be a bigger issue for everyone.
Thus, it’s important to understand that though Wozniacki’s intentions were entirely innocent, blown out of proportion and completely undeserving of the vitriol she has received - intention doesn’t negate or absolve blame from the offence that those actions can cause. When the line between impersonating players’ amusing tics and quirks, and actively caricaturing someone’s different and widely-critiqued body type becomes blurred, offence is often only around the corner.