Richard Williams, father of tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, gave an interview on March 13 [ok ok I am a little behind but I have been on spring break and my comments are still relevant even if the story is old] in which he talks about racism in tennis.
He also talked about a few other things including his own prejudices and the careers of Tracy Austin and Chris Evert whom he referred to as "no good trasher[s]...who cannot hit the ball." This has caused some...ahem...discord. I don't agree with what he said. I think it's insulting to Austin (who I actually never saw play as I was just a wee one when she was on tour but I'm pretty sure she would hit the ball) and Evert.
And WTA CEO Larry Scott was right to publicly denounce Williams's comments on Evert and Austin, but he's fooling himself if thinks that the tour's "zero tolerance policy" on racism or his encouragement of Williams to go to him when he has "evidence of racist comments or acts in women's professional tennis" is in any way helpful or even indicative of racial tolerance in tennis.
It's not. The racism in tennis is there for anyone who wants to see it. But most people don't which is why "evidence" is so hard to come by. When we continue to believe that racism only exists in overt acts like segregation it is difficult to show the many ways in which racism pervades our thoughts and actions and speech.
But I see it so clearly in the case of the Williams sister. Richard Williams is right that America embraces* cute white girls who play tennis and doesn't give them crap about being #1 too long. And he's right that the media has treated his daughters differently because of their race. Before Imus sidekick Sid Rosenberg helped create the controversy over the Rutgers women's basketball team last year, he got reprimanded for suggesting Venus and Serena belong not in the fashion magazines but in National Geographic.
And there has been other media coverage of them that refers to them in animalistic terms.
How about we take all those accounts to Larry Scott and explain to him the history of racism in this country which included treating black people like animals and how the sports world thinks that comparing black athletes with animals is okay because, after all, their ancestors had to run through the jungles of Africa chasing and being chased by wild animals. Is this enough "evidence"? Does he care that while it may not be happening within his tour (after all this isn't coming from other players or coaches one might argue) that it's happening to players on his tour?
I am sure that racist remarks are made frequently on the WTA by players and members of their entourages. But how many people actually hear them or report them when they do hear them? How many would cite "free speech" and demand to be excused for their conduct? Scott's zero tolerance policy is useless. How about he use his position and do something proactive with it? He could threaten to ban members of the media who use racist terms to describe players. He could ban whole media outlets for racist speech and writing. Or maybe he could simply begin by acknowledging that yes, racism is a problem in professional tennis instead of hiding behind a policy.
*Evert, of course, had her time as the ice princess but that impression of her did not last that long and is certainly not what people remember about her these days.