Sarah Burstein, Staff Writer
It’s certainly not uncommon to hear people speculate about how athletes, both professional and student, receive special treatment. For years, students angrily protested the seemingly unfair admission of athletes to colleges and universities, especially those that offer athletes less rigorous courses. Professionally, organizations like the NFL have garnered criticism for not being strict enough on their players, as seen in the recent Ray Rice scandal. If our society idolizes its athletes to such an extent, is it possible for them to be subject to various forms of bigotry that are so (unfortunately) common?
Venus and Serena Williams, who are currently ranked number 19 and number one, respectively, in women’s singles tennis, are undoubtedly some of the best players in the game. Some believe that without the Williams sisters, women’s tennis would not be as diverse as it is today. Their status among tennis is arguably comparable to the impact Joan Rivers had on women’s comedy, or that Tiger Woods had on golf. In a word, they’re legendary.
This past Friday Shamil Tarpischev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, appeared on a Russian comedy-chat show where he referred to Venus and Serena as “the Williams Brothers” also adding that they were “scary” to look at. The Women’s Tennis Association responded by presenting Tarpischev with a $25,000 fine and banning him from his duties for one year. Before officially apologizing on Sunday, Tarpischev responded resentfully, saying he “[didn’t] understand” his ban and argued that show he appeared on was comedy based.
Serena and Venus Williams are not amateur tennis players with average talent (and even if they were, it would obviously not excuse the comments). They have 38 grand slam titles, both singles and doubles, between the two of them. They have perhaps two of the most recognizable names in tennis, and yet the president of the Russian Tennis Federation still feels like he has the power to subject them to, as Serena Williams put it, “very insensitive and extremely sexist [and] racist” comments.
It’s no secret that in the world of professional sports, female athletes are less respected than their male counterparts. Despite the fact that they make up 40% of professional athletes, they only receive 4% of media coverage. Plus, that media coverage is more likely to sexualize them.
Female athletes, just like male athletes, need to be valued for their talents and accomplishments as athletes. Whether or not they’re “scary” to look at should not even be discussed or seriously considered. By banning and fining him, the WTA impressively protested Shamil Tarpischev and used him as an example for everyone involved in sports to take note of. We simply need to respect female athletes more, and if Tarpischev’s banning isn’t enough to scare you, just think of Serena Williams hitting a 117 mph serve to your face.