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Why Doesn’t Serena Williams Have More Sponsorship Deals?

By N Oji Mzilikazi

29 September 2015

Serena Williams is undeniably the greatest female athlete of the era, maybe the era’s greatest athlete. Yet, Williams is ranked 47 on Forbes’s list of the highest paid athletes. And of the seven tennis players on the list (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Serena Williams), Serena ranks last in endorsement dollars.

Given that centuries of patriarchal dominance has it that males are paid much more than females, even if and when all things are equal, male athletes including the less-successful having more endorsement deals/making more money than Serena Williams is par for the course, but Maria Sharapova?

Maria Sharapova cannot light a candle to Serena. Serena has had 17 consecutive victories over Maria. Serena has twice the amount of career titles owned by Sharapova.

Serena leads all active players with 21 Grand Slams. Next is Venus Williams with 7, then Maria Sharapova with 5.

Sharapova has not defeated Serena since 2004. But since 2004, Sharapova has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete.

Serena can’t touch Sharapova when it comes to sponsorships. And it has everything to do with Serena Williams’ blackness.

Martina Hingis whose career was brought to a premature end when she failed a drugs test for cocaine during Wimbledon said of the Williams sisters: Being black only helps them. Many times they get sponsors because they are black.

Contrary to Hingis’ musing, the blackness of Serena and Venus is precisely why sponsors do not knock on their doors as they ought to.

Economics is at the heart of racism. Racial discrimination is rooted in economics. Hence, racism enduring support – even when its tenets are both scientifically and intellectual debunked. Racial discrimination is the lived experience of people of African descent, yet the insidiousness that black skin accrues unwarranted privileges and benefits still hold sway.

Anna Kournikova never won a WTA singles tournament or reached a singles Grand Slam final, yet Kournikova was able to make a personal fortune out of endorsements.

Kournikova earnings allowed her parents to live off her. And so much so, they sued her to protect their continued feeding.

Kournikova fulfilled the stereotypical white and blond beauty template. The one that causes white prepubescent boys and white teenage boys to drool, adult white boys to have sexual fantasies, and old white men desirous of having the person as trophy or be in their company,  and young girls to admire, aspire to become or imitate.

Kournikova was tennis’s favourite pinup girl. Boys loved Anna Kournikova. Girls loved Anna Kournikova. Tennis tournaments loved Anna Kournikova. Wall Street loved Anna Kournikova.

Kournikova was given centre courts to play all her tennis matches, and Kournikova landed “A class” sponsors like Charles Schwab, Adidas, and Omega Watches.

Dubbed the “most successful loser in sports,” Kournikova even eclipsed Venus Williams, with all her career titles including Grand Slam wins, as the highest-paid female athlete.

Many tennis pundits didn’t like that Venus Williams and Serena Williams were winning numerous titles and increasingly were the last two standing in Grand Slam finals. So they poisoned the airwaves, television’s watching audience and the printed page with innuendos and bias. They needed a white heroine…

When Maria Sharapova defeated Serena Williams to claim the 2004 Wimbledon title, she was immediately crowned tennis “It” girl.

The tennis establishment saw Sharapova as the long awaited sexy and beautiful white hope to “rescue” the WTA from the clutches of the “Amazonian” Williams’ sisters. They gushed over her win as one for the ages, and a lot was made of it being in straight sets.

Concerned solely with white demographics, Wall Street saw Sharapova as the perfect choice to advertise/sell their product and services. Thus, Sharapova was able to secure contracts with some of the biggest companies, and remain the world’s highest paid female athlete — for so long.

In their eyes, despite the inroads and successes of Black and Asian tennis players, tennis is still a white country-club sport.

In their eyes, Serena Williams doesn’t cut it.

In spite of her athletic ability and talents, celebrity status and visibility, her downright African phenotype and “militant” blackness as opposed to the “subdued and downplayed” blackness of the likes of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan negates her bankability.

In 2000, Serena boycotted the Family Circle Cup in Hilton Head, South Carolina, over the Confederate Flag being flown over the State Capitol. Serena boycotted Indian Wells for 14 years on account of the boos and racial slurs thrown at her father and Venus when they came to see her contest the 2001 finals.

In embodying the “skinny white chick,” Maria Sharapova with her one-dimensional ball-bashing game, woeful court movement, and banshee wailing is seen as worth every penny.

Meritocracy is a myth…

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Wimbledon 2015: Racists Root For A Black Girl To Stop Serena

By N Oji Mzilikazi

12 July 2015

serena 21 slams

The default meter of greatness — for racists, is white. Consequently, the minute a Black athlete is a serious threat to a record held by a white person; racists get agitated and unleash their bias and hatred.

Hank Aaron received thousands of hate mail and death threats before and after breaking Babe Ruth’s baseball record: “You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it,” one of them reads. “Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move.”

Tiger Woods has long made it known that his dream is to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ golfing record of 18 majors. And that has offended to no end. Woods has 14.

In an April 2009 article outlining why people don’t like Tiger Woods, Tim Dahlberg, AP Sports Columnist included the following: “He’s won enough” and “He scares people (his fellow players).”

In January 2008, Golf Channel lead anchor, Kelly Tilghman, suggested one way for young players to deal with the challenge posed by Woods would be to lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley.

Given that “lynching” and its symbol the noose was used to murder, intimidate, and terrorise African Americans for centuries, Tilghman’s invocation of the term speaks volumes.

Tiger Woods last major was seven years ago — the 2008 U.S. Open. Since then Woods has been subjected to a world of injury, personal troubles and marital woes of his own making, and horrible performances on the greens. Woods is now No. 241 in the world golf rankings.

For having the audacity arrogance to pursue Nicklaus, the haters rejoice in and relish every bad minute or moment in Woods life, as well as his every misstep. Even players that were of no consequence on the tour joined in the feeding frenzy.

Ernie Els slammed Tiger Woods for his presser addressing his car accident and marital infidelity.

Els said that Woods doing so on the Friday of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship “takes a lot away from the golf tournament.” Els called it “selfish.”

Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters ripped into Tiger Woods in his 2010 annual pre-Masters press conference. Payne’s opening speech about Woods was unprecedented.

For all of Woods womanizing and infidelity, if Woods had cheated on his wife with men — and come out as gay, he would’ve been soundly embraced by the media a la Caitlyn Jenner. Tiger’s infidelity was just a ruse for many to display envy and hate.

Serena Williams has repeatedly demonstrated she is a champion par excellence. Still, she has repeatedly been counted out of the game by those who ought to know better, as well as by the haters and those who don’t like her.

Pat Cash is a former world No 1, a winner of several Grand Slam titles, and a Tennis Hall of Famer. Cash knows his tennis. Cash is also not a fan of the Williams’ sisters.

While everyone is entitled to root for or against anyone, one would think the intelligent and those with access to a “bully pulpit” would refrain from casting aspersions, making innuendos against those they dislike or rile the illiterate. When it comes to Venus and Serena Williams, commentators and writers act as if they have a license to “pyss” on them.

In July 2000, Cash said the Wimbledon semi-final match between Serena Williams and Venus Williams was fixed by their father, Richard Williams.

So filled is Cash with anti-Williams bias, he does not recognize that alongside Serena’s prodigious talents, Serena owns mental strength and have unbending intent and indefatigable spirit.

Ignorantly, Cash declares in The Times, January 14, 2007: For all her talk, Serena Williams will never return to the top again. Serena was then the world’s 81st-ranked player.

Two weeks later Serena trashed Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in the Australian Open final that lasted only 63 minutes.

In his apology, Cash unnecessarily stated: I was not alone. Tracy Austin, who knows more about women’s tennis than me, laughed at the suggestion that the former world No 1 had a legitimate shot at climbing back to the top.

Tracy Austin had predicted Serena will fall to top-seeded Sharapova in Aussie final. Austin stated with authority: Sharapova is going to be a huge step up in class for Williams — too big a step in my opinion as I see the Russian taking the title.”

Within minutes of Serena defeating Sharapova, MSNBC pulled Austin’s article: Serena’s improbable run to end. Clearly, it was to protect Tracy Austin’s reputation. The Williams’ fans that inhabited ESPN Tennis Message board promptly fired off complaints to NBC.

A loss by Serena to Justine Henin at the 2007 U.S. Open, prompted Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post to state about Serena:  Someday she may have to cope with the fact that real greatness isn’t hers, but rather, just a whisper of something she overheard through a door she never entered.

Jenkins has a history of anti-Williams, and I daresay anti-Black tirades (Barry Bonds).

Jenkins went out of her way to excuse Michael Phelps when caught smoking out of a bong in 2009, and when caught driving under the influence in 2004.

One of the things Jenkins stated in regards to Phelps was: Being a champion is frankly not the most healthful career to aspire to; it’s an abnormally stressful one. Yet, Jenkins had no qualms about crucifying Serena Williams for her U.S. Open outburst/manifestation of stress.

In the November 1, 2010, Bleacher Report, Anders Lammers emphatically made this declaration about Serena Williams: We’ll never see her as the No. 1 again.

Serena has been No. 1 for 124 weeks in a row, and is 6,671 points ahead of current World No.2 Maria Sharapova.

The list of Serena and Venus Williams detractors is long…

In winning the 2015 Australian Open and 2015 French Open, Serena Williams is two Grand Slams behind the great Steffi Graf, and halfway towards a Calendar slam; winning all four Grand Slams in a calendar year.

The last person to win the Calendar Slam was Steffi Graf — in 1988. And in winning the Olympics that year, Graf owns the Golden Slam.

Not only does winning Wimbledon 2015 bring Serena closer to Graf, but it gives Serena four consecutive Slams; the “Serena Slam” — for the second time in her career.

Given the Wimbledon draw, and Serena’s struggles at the French, even though she emerged victorious, fans that dislike Serena and fans that do not want her to reach and/or break Steffi Graf’s record dreamed, hoped and prayed for an upset along the way. That upset nearly took place in the third round.

Serena’s third-round match against England’s Heather Watson started off as a routine Williams’ win. The first set was over in 25 minutes and then — Watson won the second set playing inspirational tennis as well as the best tennis of her life. Centre Court was alive. The crowd now partisan was madly cheering for their home girl, rooting for her to send Serena packing, and some given to booing Serena.

Watson broke Williams to love to serve for the match. An upset was in the making… Watson was two points from victory — and just couldn’t get it done.

While Watson’s display of talent and skill in her match with Serena warrants the subsequent accolades, respect, and made Britain proud, the massive rooting did not all come from nationalistic pride. Some came from those who saw Watson as a foil to derail Serena’s ambitions; bring her one win from tying Steffi Graf.

Why do I make such a claim? Two days prior to the Serena encounter, Britain’s No. 1 female tennis player revealed in a post-match press conference that she has been a victim of social media abuse: I’ve had death threats. I’ve had people threatening to kill me and kill my family, wishing that I get cancer and die a slow, painful death.

What would prompt such haters to root for Heather Watson other than not wanting the most dominant athlete ever in the WTA eclipse their idol? Forget the “rooting for the underdog” canard. You would never hear fans and commentators rooting for the underdog to upset Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Raphael Nadal, or former players like Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi. Rooting for the underdog only comes into play when a Williams’ sister is on court.

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London 2012: The Olympics White Racial Frame

London 2012: The Olympics White Racial Frame

By N Oji Mzilikazi

August 9, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 15)

It takes years of training, hard-work, sacrifices, total commitment, peaking at the right time, being on top of one’s game at the right moment, and sometimes a little bit of luck for an athlete to not just qualify for the Olympics, but to win a medal as well. Therefore, one must wonder what would possess an athlete to throw away their Olympics by engaging in racism. After all, racism is not a disease hereditary or otherwise, but a deliberate and purposeful choice.

Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was kicked off the Greek Olympic team for a racist tweet against African immigrants in Greece. Then she had the nerve to claim being upset and bitter over the disciplinary decision.

South Korea defeated Switzerland 2-1 in a soccer match. Deep-rooted feelings of white racial superiority resulted in Swiss player Michel Morganella posting a racist tweet against South Korea. He was subsequently expelled.

16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen won the 400m individual medley in a world-record time. In no time at all, John Leonard, executive director of the USA Swimming Coaches Association openly cast aspersions on her swim.

He defended his suspicions by citing that “the Chinese have a doping history.” It’s not as if American hands are clean when it comes to doping.

Commentator and former tennis player Rennae Stubbs is a fan of Serena Williams. In her search for superlatives to describe Serena’s dominance, she referenced Serena hitting the ball to that of hitting a watermelon.

Though Stubbs is Australian, there is no way she wouldn’t be aware that “watermelon” like “fried chicken” have racial connotations – even though whites consume more of them than Blacks. Though no offence was intended, surely she could’ve invoked a basketball or football for the audience visualization. To pull watermelon out of the hat speaks volumes.

The Network TV Press Release of August 5th stated that the Serena Williams – Maria Sharapova Gold Medal Match drew 7.9 million viewers.

Given the 6-0, 6-1 drubbing, almost 8 million viewers saw “It Girl” Sharapova who recently won the French Open, and was on top of her game humiliated – and on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon – the site of her greatest victory. It was the worst defeat in women’s Olympic singles final history.

Sharapova’s 2004 defeat of Serena at Wimbledon propelled her into stardom, landed her lucrative contracts and the biggest endorsement for a female athlete. A win over Serena would’ve given Sharapova the career Golden Slam (victories at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, and Olympic Gold), the #1 rank, and undoubtedly bigger and better endorsements.

Serena was the one that walked away with the Golden Slam. Serena is now the second female to have a Golden Slam. Steffi Graf achieved that feat in 1988.

Serena’s breathtaking performance, tennis clinic, and demolition of Sharapova stunned everyone.

For the first time in my life I saw tennis commentators at a loss of words and unable to unleash snide and snarky remarks about Serena.

Haters would always find reasons to hate. Serena’s few seconds of dancing celebration – doing the “Crip Walk” became a straw man. She was now endorsing the notorious Crips, even though it was a “Crip” that murdered her sister.

In the men’s tennis singles final, Andy Murray humiliated Roger Federer. The effusiveness was of such that both American and Canadian television broadcasters repeatedly ran several minutes of the match including the trophy presentation. Venus Williams and Serena Williams won Olympic Doubles Gold that very day. It brought their haul to 4 Olympic Gold medals each, and being the “winningest” Olympic tennis players ever. Compared to Andy Murray, the clip of their win was a blur.

Jordyn Wieber was the all-around gymnastic world champion and deserving the hype. Americans expected her to be the golden girl of gymnastics. Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas from Virginia, aka Gabby Douglas, African-American, and nicknamed “The flying squirrel” won the US Trials.

She qualified for more Olympic events than the other Americans on the gymnastic team, yet from the tone and commentary from the announcers, one would swear she was the weakest link.

The Olympic rule for the all-around finals is two finalists per nation. Wieber failed to qualify for the Olympic all-around finals. She was beaten by two other American – Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.

The devastation was so unbearable to both Weiber and her coach John Geddert, he blasted the rule. In addition to calling it dumb, Geddert said, it’s a shame that the world champion doesn’t get to compete in the Olympic all around finals.”

There was so much emotional investment in Weiber; gymnastic pundits and huge numbers of gymnastic fans had no room in their hearts for 16-year-old Gabby Douglas.

Gabby won the all-around gold – the medal that defines gymnastic achievements, and the hype machine that surrounds that accomplishment at every Olympics broke down. The glowing tributes to make her name a household one wasn’t there. However, the racists got their groove on; some Americans even lamenting that Russian gymnast Victoria Komova was robbed.

Approximately 10 hours had passed when Gabby won gold and NBC aired her performance. Upon Bob Costas spouting the feel good spiel of Gabby’s gold-medal performance being inspirational to young African-American girls, the ad that followed featured a monkey doing gymnastics. And, of course, it was purely coincidental!!!

When Nigeria squared off against Lithuania in the men’s basketball match, a whole block of Lithuanian supporters had their monkey chant going on. The report qualified the racist outburst with the men “were mostly drunk.” Drunk people are known to get a pass…

UK Guardian columnist Emma John, in the article, “Gabrielle Douglas wins London 2012 gymnastics all-around gold” wrote: The US duo came here on the back of a team gold won in ruthless style and were once again were niggardly with their errors. (It has since been edited.)

While “niggardly” has nothing to do with the N-word, referencing it in regards to a Black person is in extremely poor taste. Writers/journalists know the power of words and semantics. Surely, John could’ve used the simple, more to the point and better adjective that is “stingy.”

While John supposedly meant no offence with “niggardly,” its usage points to conscious and unconscious predilection of white folks to play “coded” word games in regards to people of African descent.

Douglas was the only person on team America to compete in the 4 apparatus that comprise the team competition. She had the highest scores for the USA in the Uneven Bars and Beam. She had higher scores over Jordyn Wieber in the 3 apparatus Weiber contested.

Upon the USA winning Gold, the hype machine was of such:Jordyn Wieber finds redemption in leading Team USA to gold in women’s gymnastics” (Yahoo) Alex Kay, writing for the Bleacher Report stated: Jordyn Wieber was the star for the Americans, just two days after failing to qualify for the individual all-around finals.”

The Washington Post was honest. Its headline read, “Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber lead U.S. women’s gymnastics to gold” and featured a picture of Gabby Douglas airborne.

While Steve Almasy, CNN article, “Fab Five brings home gymnastics gold” acknowledges Gabby Douglas led the U.S. to a 183.596 score, he pointed out that “Jordyn Wieber was a key part of the victory also, placing third in the vault and fourth on the floor.” Third and fourth as key contributors?

The nature of the beast to Black accomplishment is always an elevation of the bar. The reaction to Tiger amassing wins was the “Tiger-proofing” of golf courses – making it more difficult for him to win. The Williams domination in tennis resulted in the slowing of the courts and changing of the ball.

Gabby won all-around gold. Interestingly, British Guardian writer Judith Mackrell opined that “the levels of technical ability require of today’s gymnast…come at the expense of fluency of phrasing, and grace,” and had high praise for Russian silver-medalist Victoria Komova, “the most dancerly of this year’s female competitors.” While she acknowledged Gabby Douglas won hearts and points, she equated Gabby to a show pony.