Archive for the ‘Women in Sport’ Category

Why Caroline Wozniacki wasn’t racist

Let me get one thing straight. Tennis players are not, never have been, and never will be funny.

Beloved of many, many tennis fans around the world, I woke up to find Wozniacki in the news for stuffing towels down her jocks and her, erm, bra I spose, and pretending to be Serena Williams. Sort of funny, maybe, right? At a stretch? Or at least we can appreciate how it could be seen as funny if we were really stoned or something?

WRONG! It is, I read, an indictment on her fundamentally racist and elitist Scandinavian character (well, we Scandinavians are pretty wonderful) that she should dare imitate a full figured woman (who also happens to be black). She transcended the boundaries of good taste, said various news sources and, well, let’s call them ‘special interests’ websites. This article is not to bring censure upon myself, and there is no censure I fear more than those with special interests. I have no special interests, and thus no clout with such vicious creatures.

So the above people apparently have a media pass for hammering the young Dane with insults. And who’s to stop them and tell them they’re wrong? Usually I cower in the corner and say “yes sir/ma’am, no sir/ma’am” until they get bored with such a pathetic creature and slink off. But this time, I really don’t think Caroline was racist.

Racist? Or just not funny?

Racist? Or just not funny?

What these folks won’t tell you is that she also mimicked her screams (every female tennis player has there own ‘brand’ of scream) and her gestures.

“Not relevant,” they might tell you. “The only relevant part is the part where she made fun of the other lady’s body shape, which is terrible stereotyping of an African-American woman and is therefore racist.”

Well allow me to delve into the dirty world of stereotypes myself.

Tennis players are not funny. They might seem to be living the high life, God knows Bernard Tomic is, but I think that if you look a little closer, there’s a lot of introverted, self motivated and highly unusual individuals in the profession. I don’t think it’s their modus operandi to pride themselves on their witty banter or on how many schooners they can put away on a Friday after massages.

No, I think they’re more at home, um, at home, watching a movie, listening to their favourite podcast, curled up in a ball counting how many balls they struck in anger that day. That’s not to say they’re all reclusive weirdos, but my point is that they are not the type who make jokes to all those mates they have all the time. They probably spend more time speaking to hotel clerks than their mates.

You’ll have realised by now that this is mostly hyperbole, but it serves to illustrate my final point which I will make in earnest: Tennis is not funny.

Wozniacki was playing an exhibition show-match with Maria Sharapova. Beyond hitting the ball really hard (which they do all the other times) what else can a tennis player do at one of these things. These events, which pro tennis players must just “errggghh” at every time their manager tells them they have to front up for one, are designed solely so the crowd can have a wee giggle and point at the things they players are doing on court, then go home and tell their friends all about how they saw Andre Agassi take his shirt off.

Sort of like going to the monkey enclosure at the zoo (note to those who are censuriously [new word, RT and share] inclined, this remark is not associating tennis players with monkeys, just with crowds who go to watch both do similar things, namely laugh, point at the performing creatures and go home and tell their friends about it).

Tennis players must dig into their bag of tricks. They do the between the legs, the no legs, the one legs (amazing aren’t they? They can make plurals of the singular), the kick-the-tennis-ball manoeuvre, the backwards stuff, and all that. That buys them about 10 minutes.

Then they start to do the impersonations. They begin to grunt, al a Gustavo Kuerten: “Eeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

Gustavo Kuerten: the former world number one just keeps on giving.

Then the Agassi. They’ve probably got a cap that makes their head resemble a certain billiard ball, and they’ll do the short steps thing that Agassi made famous. I remember hating those short steps (being a Sampras man myself) because it meant Agassi was on a role, big time.

Then they go for their fellow women players. The screeches come out: Monica Selles, Maria Sharapova, Li Na (or is it Na Li?), they’re all there. Then we hit Serena.

Serena, perhaps the biggest anomaly, in terms of physique, in women’s tennis. It’s clearly served her very well; the other ladies couldn’t keep up with her for however many years. It was that physique that forced others to accord and get bigger, fitter, stronger and better.

So surely, when Caroline stuffs her skirt and top with towels imitating Serena, we should look at it as praise of said physique, with perhaps a little jealousy thrown in. In a results based industry, I’m certain that most female professional tennis players would love to have Serena’s physical attributes.

I struggle to look at this incident and view it as racist. I see it as unfunny tennis players imitating other tennis players. For anyone who knows anything about tennis, they would know that Serena stands out as a colossus in her game, and that any attempt to replicate her on court game or physique should show exactly how much impact she has had on her sport.

I’m not going to say that “there was no black face therefore she’s not racist rah rah rah.” If we take the context into account, I think you can see for yourself that this is in no way racist, just a very unfunny impression. It’s not like Wozniacki was attempting to demean Williams’ physique, just replicate it. Hell, she won the point as well, so it was sort of befitting of Serena.

Was Wozniacki naive in imitating her? Perhaps. But it takes several naive steps of logic for people to think that her imitation of Serena Williams, possibly the best female tennis player of all time, is racist

It’s all in the attitude

It’s lucky that the NRL isn’t subjected to the same scrutiny as the parliament, because last Thursday’s episode dedicated to the Women in League round would have been shown to have as thin a guise as Beau Ryan’s Tommy Raudonikis. In fact, Beau Ryan’s Tommy only contributed to the disastrous five minutes that could have cost someone their job.

It is not all bad that the slip ups largely escaped censure, because for the most part it was a nice and fitting celebration for the women involved in Rugby League. Overall, one got the impression that the hosts, the writers, the anchors and the crowd were genuinely celebrating what they told us they were celebrating. I will give them credit and say that it really looked like they were trying to celebrate women’s role within the game.

May I say too that Leila McKinnon made a really good guest host and a nice change of pace for a show that can be often be a buffoonery overload. It is wonderful to see someone who really did her research and showed a better understanding of some aspects of the game than the other hosts have in the twenty years the show has been running. Statistics on the footy show that don’t come out of  David Middleton’s mouth? Who’d have thought?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but notice the quizzical look on Leila’s face (I’m going out on a limb and say that Leila looks and sounds to me like a good journalist, a well informed person and someone who will not tolerate casual sexism) when Fatty said that “unfortunately” Germaine Greer is still alive. For all her bad stigma in Rugby League circles for whatever reasons,  I doubt that Fatty fully understands Germaine’s contribution to society. And for the eternal deity’s sake, Fatty, can you save the jokes about Germaine for episodes that aren’t ENTIRELY AND EXCLUSIVELY DEDICATED TO WOMEN IN THE GAME OF FOOTBALL? I REALISE IT’S MOSTLY DUDES WHO PLAY, BUT WE’RE TRYING TO SHOOT AN EPISODE THAT CELEBRATES THE ROLE OF PEOPLE WITHOUT A PENIS THIS WEEK. IT WOULD HELP IF YOU DIDN’T MAKE JOKES CASUALLY RIDICULING WOMEN THIS WEEK, AND PROBABLY FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS JUST TO BE SAFE.

Thankfully, Beau Ryan as Tommy Raudonikus saved the situation, humourously remarking that Fatty’s job is “Gooooooooooonnnnne.” It could well have been had there been a political correctness brigade watching the show.

Unfortunately for Beau, he too made a couple of sexist gaffs. Firstly, addressing Leila as “Love,” even as Tommy Raudonikis, ain’t on. Secondly, using the word “women” in a derogatory sense, ie. “The Queensland team is full of women,” is not ideal in an episode about how great women are for Rugby League. By this stage the producer would have had no teeth, fingernails or hair.

I suppose Beau could have meant that women are in fact superior to men, and that Queensland’s team has been full of women for the last six years, thus their dominance. But this was patently not what Beau meant, and it was, in fact, meant as an insult.

While none of these things are not super sexist, and didn’t prompt a media shitstorm or a Mel Gibson revenge movie, I do question the value of these Women in League rounds if the attitude of men within the game is still that backward.

Only this year two players were banned, but not for life, for assaulting their girlfriends. The league celebrates Greg Bird despite his past indiscretions against women. I know they don’t speak for the game, but even Fatty saying it was unfortunate Germaine hadn’t carked it or Beau saying the Queensland team are women shows that the attitude of the game hasn’t progressed as far as the Women in League celebrations would have us think.

But allow me to be positive. They really really tried. They tried to celebrate the women’s role in the game that has a 41% female fanbase, but a little more research and a shift in attitude would make this seem a lot more genuine.

And some basic briefing from someone with a bit of sense might have helped. Tip for the hosts: Don’t associate things female with things necessarily bad or weak. Don’t call females “Love” and “Toots.” And don’t pay out Germaine Greer. Especially on the only week of the year you dedicate the show to women.

You got away with it this time Footy Show, but it’s really time to put your money where your mouth is with this whole Women in League thing.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair