Stephens And Williams: When Competition Goes Off Court

May 9, 2013  |  

It looks like everything Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams are BFFs again – or at least they can stop giving each other the stank eye.

According to Sports Illustrated, Stephens, who is a rising star in the tennis world, tweeted out on Tuesday that she and Williams had “straighten[ed] out the controversy” around comments she made in ESPN The Magazine in which she denounced media reports that two had a close friendship. In fact, Stephens said that after pulling an upset over Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, the two hadn’t spoken and Williams had even stopped following her on Blackberry messenger and on Twitter. From the ESPN article: “She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia,” Stephens says emphatically. “And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.”

When asked about the Stephens comments, Williams took a different, more oblivious stance, telling reporters, “I don’t really know. I don’t have many thoughts….I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been. I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world. I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her.”

To be honest with you, outside of hearing about the Williams sisters domination in the sport, I have no interest in tennis. With that said, this sort of situation that transpired between Stephens and Williams is not exclusive to the tennis world. And I don’t want to make this a gender thing but it has been my personal experience that women tend to have these sort of weird beefs, which seem to materialize out of what a person hasn’t said or done. I used to think that it was because women were crazy. But now I think it is a matter of good old fashioned competition.

And I’m not talking about the competition most think of when they think of women. You know, the kind which usually spawns out of mutual interest in the same men or the same outfit; I’m talking about women trying to out-do each other in the workplace; in schools and even in the club.

Like a few weeks ago, I was dancing with a bunch of friends at a club and I must have been really getting my two-step on that night because this young woman came out of nowhere and started dropping it all hot in front of me. At first I thought she was just being a hype white girl, trying to do that whole ‘look-at-me-dance-with-black-people-‘ thing that they do. But the expression on her face as she dipped it low – and struggled to bring it back up again – told me that she was really serious. She was subtly trying to challenge me to a dance-off. I turned my back on Ms. Save the Last Dance.

Part of me was flattered as maybe those Zumba classes has given me better hip to foot coordination. And truthfully, there is nothing wrong with competition. It’s good for business, particularly for customers as it helps keep the prices low. And men are regularly praised for their competitive spirits. And in my younger years – and if I really knew how to dance – I would have probably playfully given Ciara’s illegitimate sister a run for her money and likely not sweated the outcome.

But we also have to recognize when our natural competitive spirit is becoming unhealthy. And that’s the other part, which had me annoyed by the situation. Like why did this stranger approach and challenge the only black girls dancing, in a sea of non-black girls dancing? I wasn’t even the best dancer in the place. There were a group of white girls on the other side of the room, getting it in way better than any of us black girls were at the time. So why did she have to try to take my shine from me?

I definitely sense some underlying competitiveness in this Stephens and Williams situation, which might have more to do with off-the court than on. Part of this is fueled by the media’s constant comparison of the two, particularly christening Stephens as the next Williams. I mean, just because they are the only two black high-profiled tennis players outside of Venus (who folks rarely talk about these days) in a sport dominated by non-black women, doesn’t mean they have to be compared to each other. I mean is it inconceivable to compare Stephens to Maria Sharapova or a Victoria Azarenka? Or better yet, let her be great on her own?

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