The mature and savvy Serena Williams has done what her younger tennis colleague, Sloane Stephens, did before her - put her foot in her mouth.  It didn't feel that way when it happened, I'm guessing.  It never does.  But if God isn't watching, the media is.  Especially in this day and age where we all carry the potential—in our electronic DNA—to join the ranks of the rankest media conduits—the paparazzi—with our omnipresent personal cameras on our cellphones, iPads, tablets, etc.  But I digress...

We all have uncensored moments—Geez we have a lot in common as human animals!—but some cause more collateral damage than others.  If the timeline of the Rolling Stone interview was adhered to in the written article, the vulnerable moment came deep into the interview. Often, at the end of such, one has more than relaxed into a bubble of false security that expands from the moment the recording device is first set in motion, and either forgets or ignores to self-monitor.  Journalists have tricks of the trade up their sleeves (Noooo!) and are known on occasion to play unfairly in the scoop game, especially in this day of the information autobahn where real scoops are practically non-existent.  Could it be considered a kidney punch or low blow to have published that part of her interview?  After all , there was plenty to write about without.

I speculated in a recent blog post that Ms. Stephens, unaccustomed to the limelight and attention lavished on her after she knocked Serena out of the Australian Open in the quarter finals this past January, simply naïvely and unguardedly spoke her mind in an interview, and for which she paid the price.  "Serena was beaten by the beautiful and - for sports writers -conveniently back Sloane Stephens, leading tennis commentators to call her the "New Serena", is the way Stephen Rodrick put it in The Rolling Stone.  It is more than interesting how the media made much ado about the upset whereas little was said about Serena's injured ankle during that match.  Might that be called 'stacking the deck'?

The controversy had Sloane Stephens stating that, among other things, Kim Clijsters and not Serena Willliams was her favorite tennis player and role model, indicating, as well, that an angry and frustrated Serena unfollowed her on Twitter and sent out a tweet to her own followers in which she wrote, "I made you".  It was generally assumed that the comment was meant for Sloane Stephens.  

With all due respect for the 'truth', I went straight to the source, as my understanding was that the Rolling Stone interview of the sixteen-time Grand Slam champion was a lengthy one. The meaning of nearly all phenomena, no matter the nature, is determined—if the possibility even exists—by the context from which it arises.  

The article is indeed lengthy and some of it flattered Serena Williams while it revealed a hard truth about our society's myopic view of beauty (I wrote another blog post on the lucrative industry of the making and selling of feminine 'Beauty' and its skewed, artificially constructed standards). 

"Serena is the number-one tennis player in the world. Maria Sharapova is the number-two tennis player in the world. Sharapova is tall, white and blond, and, because of that, makes more money in endorsements than Serena, who is black, beautiful and built like one of those monster trucks that crushes Volkswagens at sports arenas. Sharapova has not beaten Serena in nine years...  The chasm between Serena and the rest of women's tennis is as vast and broad as the space between Ryan Lochte's ears." (This analogy, I must confess, is lost on me.)

Stephen Rodrick writes, after spending the morning and afternoon following Serena around during the interview: "We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV – two high school football players raped a drunk 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. 'Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously, I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different.'"  Whoa!!!  

Well, this musing does offer harsh criticism of the young girl's behavior and her upbringing; at the same time, it appears to make contradictory statements by starting out asserting that she does not blame the girl...but...  I mean, in a sense the girl was lucky, when you consider that there are degrees of 'misfortune'.  It could have been much worse.  She could have been raped with several penises, beaten and/or left for dead as has been the case with so many women...and men too.  Consider the young college woman in India who was brutally assaulted, beaten, raped multiple times by multiple rapists, and then thrown on the roadside to perish.  She did die later from her wounds.  Or the three-year-old New Delhi girl who was raped and suffered massive injuries as a result.

The sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys, whose identities have not been protected from the public, were sentenced to juvenile jail until they turn twenty-one.  Given what they did, is this too harsh a sentence for presumed first time offenders?  The question, whatever side we fall on —and there are those who line up on both sides of the issue—has to be posed.  Does the fact that they were sentenced to 'juvenile jail' mitigate the seriousness of being incarcerated?  Does it offset the horrific experience of being a possibly virgin victim of rape?

The Rolling Stone interview provided opportunity for plenty of scathing backlash from readers spanning the spectrum, from making excuses for the tennis diva to excoriating her for her total lack of humanity towards the sixteen-year-old rape victim, calling her a bully on and off the courts.  Someone else suggested that perhaps she was just thinking out loud.  After all, she was in a nail salon basking in the attentive care of mani/pedicurists, recovering from a morning of court practice and strenuous workout at the gym.  I believe Serena was truly baffled, though there are those who think that her statement of apology was weak and insincere and..gee whiz...flawed, when those looking to find fault infer that what she didn't say was that the older you are the less horrific the rape because you are not as likely to be a virgin...uh, if she was.  

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame. I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.” 

Now, doesn't that sound more like someone who's had time to give it some thought?  (Maybe she went a wee overboard...?)  I mean, I wonder had she been on The Tonight Show in Jay Leno's hot seat would she have made such unrehearsed and insensitive remarks as reported in her interview.  

Sloane Stephens was being honest—and transparent—in her interview, for which she later apologized.  She'd said, however, what she felt and thought.  Any apology after that does not erase the fact that she believed at the time what she stated.  Following the same logic, Serena's musings were probably fairly close to what she really subscribes to, given, as has been pointed out, her Jehovah's Witness upbringing.  Well, that's off topic, but it's great fun ruminating about it.

While chewing the cud seems to be front and center in this post, who other than myself finds it strangely disturbing that in the Rust Belt Red State of West Virginia, two high school boys, one European American and the other African American, would act in solidarity to commit a sexual crime against what appears to be a European American female?  Do sports and potential star athletes wield that much clout?  Is this some sick sign of 'progress'?  Or, once again, is it all about the media?

Anyway, many thanks, Serena, for stirring my sleeping muse from her nap, however brutally you tickled my funny bone.
 


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