By Arturo R. García
Tuesday afternoon portions of a new Rolling Stone profile of tennis star Serena Williams went online, but one section in particular set off red flags and trigger warnings online.
The passage actually comes toward the end of the piece, which RS posted Tuesday evening. At this point in his piece, Stephen Rodrick has spent time with Williams while she practices and works out and is with her when she is getting a pedicure when this apparently happens:
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.”
Serena’s Hannity-like take on the case isn’t her only rightward lean. She is baffled by the tax rate in France. “Seventy-five percent doesn’t seem legal. Nobody does anything because the government pays you to be broke. So why work?”
Williams’ statements regarding the Steubenville case are revolting, of course. But it’s also surprising that Rodrick doesn’t appear to follow up — if he did, it doesn’t show up in this version of the article; the print version will be released on July 4th, and perhaps that will provide more context. It wouldn’t excuse what Williams said by any means, but it would provide more information on what went into it.
In the meantime, we’re left confused: where did this attitude come from? Were they watching the infamous CNN broadcast where both anchor Candy Crowley and reporter Poppy Harlow openly sympathized with the football players who attacked the young woman? Is she more inclined to disbelieve accusations against athletes because of her own dust-ups with the press? Were they watching Fox News, which broadcast the victim’s name on the air? Does she remember appearing in a Law & Order: SVU episode where investigators faced another “code of silence” perpetrated by a group of young men?
The rest of the article posits Williams as both devoted to her family and comfortable being at odds with the other top players in the world; fellow WOC pro Sloane Stephens (“I am definitely not that girl’s mentor”) is name-checked, while Rodrick presumes Williams is dismissive of Maria Sharapova, who is currently dating Williams’ ex, during a phone call with sister Venus.
Rodrick also directly cites white privilege as being behind the difference in the disparity between Williams and Sharapova’s marketing cache off the court:
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. Think about that for a moment. Nine years ago Matchbox Twenty and John Edwards mattered. The chasm between Serena and the rest of women’s tennis is as vast and broad as the space between Ryan Lochte’s ears. Get back to me when LeBron beats Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder every time for nine years.
As Deadspin points out, the RS piece was part of a recent effort by Williams to open herself up to both the press and the public. For this attitude to be the result is tremendously troubling.
Update, 10:25 a.m. EST: Williams issued a statement on her website Wednesday morning:
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.