Serena Williams Deemed “Greatest Athlete Of All Time,” But Endorsements Say Otherwise

September 4, 2015  |  

The U.S. Open is currently underway in Flushing Meadows, New York. If Serena Williams does her magic, she’ll earn her 22nd major title and become only the fourth woman to win all of her sport’s Grand Slam competitions in one calendar year.  As the world’s number one women’s tennis player, Williams is without a doubt the most prominent athlete on the courts. But USTA President Katrina Adams took things a step further and declared Williams the greatest athlete ever.  Period.  End of sentence. Drop the mic.

But even with that accolade and her ranking, Williams does not top a list befitting of a player of her stature.  Though she receives $13 million a year in endorsements, not too shabby at all, Forbes ranked Williams 47th on their list of highest-paid athletes. Surprisingly, she is last when it comes to other tennis players (six of whom made the list). Maria Sharapova, currently ranked third in the world among women’s tennis players, is considered by some to be Williams’s rival. This, despite the fact that Williams has a record of 18 to 2 in their meetings.  Not much of a rivalry, if you ask me.  Still, Sharapova happens to earn significantly more endorsement money than Williams.  In fact, she has been the highest-paid female athlete for the past 11 years.

If you’ve been following Williams’s career, there should be no question as to why that disparity exists.  Since she first turned pro in 1995, Williams (and sister Venus) has been called everything under the sun.  She has been body shamed for her prominent muscles and athletic build.  She has been booed by crowds, hit with racial slurs and every inch of her body from her hair to her butt to her legs has been mocked and disrespected by fellow players and sports announcers alike.  Her occasional outbursts due to bad calls, not at all unique to Williams and much less severe than those of outburst-prone retired players like Andy Roddick, John McEnroe or any other female player, are escalated and adjusted to fit the stereotype of the angry Black woman.  And how dare she celebrate a win.  How arrogant. How rude.  Williams has even been accused of fixing matches.  Clearly, because there’s no way she can be that good.  That on top.  That ordained.

All of the hate and negativity thrown Williams’s way, coded or not, are clear and obvious attacks based on her race.  The countless examples prove that Black women are still deemed less attractive, and are considered to be hypermasculine by the mainstream.  Sharapova, on the other hand, is White, blond, slim, and lives up to the so-called ideal standard of beauty that has long excluded, overlooked and belittled Black women for our physical features.  Her femininity and sexuality are welcomed and deemed acceptable and marketable in the corporate world at large.  Because of those things, she is instantly “likeable.” Williams was never afforded that same likeability factor.

Williams was asked about this disparity in a New York Times Magazine interview published last month.  Like the champ she is Williams stated that she’s happy for Sharapova because she has worked hard and that “There is enough at the table for everyone.”  Williams acknowledges that she’s opening doors in the tennis game. She went on to say, “We have to be thankful, and we also have to be positive about it so the next Black person can be No. 1 on that [Forbes] list.”

Williams’s love and mastery of the game is undeniable.  Companies like Pepsi, Nike, JPMorgan Chase, and most recently, Beats by Dre, have partnered with her.  In doing so, they not only acknowledge her excellence, but play a role in changing the aforementioned perceptions and stereotypes.  But the tennis star’s excellence is not about gaining endorsements.  Nor is it about combatting racism. That is a burden and a task too big for any one person to carry. Serena Williams has nothing to prove to anyone but herself.  For her, it’s about being the best she can be, and that means winning, time and time again.

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