Last week two premieres took place — the latest Star Wars movie, and a real-life drama, called Another Attack on Black Women.
First, the controversy over Serena Williams’ selection by Sports Illustrated as “Sportsperson of the Year,” and her self-chosen cover photo shoot that drew some boos.
The multi-time tennis champion chose the pose, dressed in a lace leotard, with one leg draped over a gold throne. “I personally think that when we can be ourselves, you’ll know that women have power,” Williams said in the annual issue.
Washington Post’s Marissa Payne reported in her December 17 piece that one blogger said Williams “looked like a hooker” and a Chicago newspaper columnist noted that the image “doesn’t help female athletes.”
But others supported Williams and the cover photo, including some feminists. Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation told Payne’s paper, “I don’t think that [the cover] depicts a sex object. She’s flaunting her power.”
The Los Angeles Times ran “a lighthearted poll” — “Serena Williams or American Pharaoh: Who’s the Real Sportsperson of 2015?”
Stacia Brown, of the Washington Post, opined that the Times “should have been able to discern …[the poll] would be deeply unsettling for any Black reader,” continuing the ugly history of comparing Blacks and animals and “diminish[ing] recognition and reward for Black American athletes’ accomplishments.”
“This isn’t a climate in which any comparison of a Black athlete and an animal is a legitimate, passable, humorous debate topic. It’s never been legitimate or passable,” said Brown.
If people are upset over Williams’ choice as SI’s top athlete this year, that’s legitimate. She nonetheless deserves the honor. But to say a racehorse is more deserving is not only sexist but racist.
The second half of the Attack on Black Women drama starred former NBA star Gilbert Arenas, whose past antics included bringing a gun into the locker room and pulling it on a teammate. Last week he went nuclear on social media about the mostly Black WNBA.
The following are excerpts from Arenas’ insidious rant: “…a bunch of chicks running around looking like cast members from #orangeisthenewblack…they have few #cutiepies but there’s a whole alotta #beanpies running around… ”Arenas later posted a photo of Legends [formerly Lingerie] Football League players.
The NBA-WNBA’s almost 50-word joint statement, called Arenas’ comments “repugnant, utterly disrespectful and flat-out wrong.” Present and former W players among others also took him to the social media woodshed.
Arenas, a father of four, including two girls, took athletic sexism to an uglier level, acting like a misogynist rapper calling Black women, as well as all W players, everything but children of God.
“He’s essentially criticizing the culture surrounding the game that he loves,” said Meehan McKeown of Swish Appeal. “These women play basketball, and they’re great at it.”
WNBA players aren’t on the court to titillate, to get men all hot and bothered. And calling all of them lesbians not only is flat-out wrong on two fronts: 1) it’s incorrect, and 2) sexual orientation, whether female or male is not a prerequisite to play sports. And if women athletes have to wear skimpy outfits or tons of make up in order to get more male fans in the stands, then the WNBA needs to shut down its doors.
We aren’t Bob Newhart, but perhaps the reason why Arenas — who makes Fred Flintstone look like a modern day feminist — criticizes the WNBA is because he’s bored, clueless or both.
The LA Times later offered a non-apology apology, saying that the Williams-American Pharaoh poll wasn’t seriously intended, but rather to stir up discussion on this year’s top sports feats.
The idea, however, fell racially flat, and the paper’s editors, like Arenas, were either clueless or used the opportunity to promote a backroom “throwback” racist agenda.
I didn’t go see Star Wars last week. I instead unnecessarily saw a real-life drama in real time.
Information from multiple sources was used in this report.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.