Serena Williams forced journalists to get out of the “toy box” and treat tennis as more than just a game

Of the many standout components of her game, Serena Williams is perhaps best known for her commanding serve.

Those serves arguably unleashed over the course of a 27-year professional career increased the power and intensity of the women’s gamewhich forces their opponents to create a game plan for every evil volley.

For those who chronicle her exploits as one of the world’s top women tennis players, Williams offered a different challenge.

As a sports journalistI have observed how its practitioners have struggled to find her foundation when it comes to building a consensus on what exactly constitutes good sports journalism.

Williams’ presence as a black woman in a historically white, patriarchal sport, her commitment to activism, and her willingness to take her personal challenges public, compelled sportswriters to do so Reassess professional standards this pushed her to focus only on what was happening between the lines.

apolitical origin

Sports journalism emerged in the late 19th century and fully established itself as a journalism genre in its own right when newspaper publishers moved away from it in an effort to attract a wider audience partisan party organs. Sports became fast a lucrative way to sell newspapers.

These apolitical origins shaped its future development. Success often depended on access to players and front office staff, as well as close relationships with league officials. The main result of this agreement was the general reluctance among sports journalists to take a critical look at the role sport plays in our communities and society.

In general, Americans often think of sports as being in line with the values ​​they hold dear. Journalists and officials regularly talk about sport as the embodiment of a meritocracy and a reflection of society power of the individual Overcoming prejudices or challenges.

Such media narratives don’t address it, like sport for all its feel-good moments play a role by contributing to forms of discrimination and alienation.

Reporters play in the toy box

By the late 20th century – just as Williams was rising to become a tennis star – the industry had evolved into one giant multimedia profit company at a time when newspaper ad revenue began to crumble.

Sportswriters were treated by their news colleagues as players in a proverbial “toy boxwithin the broader newsroom. That is, their peers viewed them as frivolous, lacking a serious approach. They were not there to serve as watchdogs or, through their reporting, contribute solutions to problems affecting the nation or local communities affect.

Instead, sportswriters became known simply as sports gurus, adept at analyzing the intricacies of a football receiver’s routes or discussing the merits of a basketball team’s zone defense.

When Williams turned pro in 1995 at the age of 14, early reporting avoided conversations about the unique types of gender racism a working-class California black girl might encounter on the professional tour.

As a sociologist Delia Douglas has stated tennis has a history of being only accessible to people who can afford to play Resorts, country clubs and tennis academies. It’s also a sport with different rules for men and women, a practice that contributes to stereotypes about female athletes as weak or less interesting than their male counterparts.

But the context of Williams’ entry into professional tennis was often overlooked. The coverage instead focused on the Efforts of her father to raise his daughters, Venus passing the baton to Serenaand the sisters play style. Furthermore, woven through this cover was an underlying indication that Serena Williams didn’t fit the definition of respectable tennis, as reporters commented on her fashion choices or questioned whether her playing style harmed women’s football.

Sport does not take place in a vacuum

Doing sports journalism by “sticking to sport” leaves reporters ill-equipped to cover news events that require a broader lens.

That’s how it was in 2001, when fans at the Indian Wells tennis tournament subdued the Williams sisters traumatizing racist insultsan experience that led the duo to boycott the event for 14 years.

Researchers examining the event found that most of the subsequent media coverage focused solely on and provided the incident itself little insight to address forms of whiteness and patriarchy ingrained in professional tennis.

This type of journalism is often referred to as episodic because it only sheds light on the single event and separates it from the forces that contributed to the specific situation. This framing technique is not uncommon in sports journalism. Reporting by US women’s gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, who was convicted of abusing dozens of athletes under his care, tended to focus on individual victim stories while calling Nassar “a bad apple”. and Stories about intimate partner violence The crimes committed by NFL players are similarly framed in the past — a crime committed by a single person separate from a system that could encourage violence against women.

But Williams urged sportswriters to do more than analyze her serve. She has spoken publicly of her own experiences of the tragedy below-average maternal care for black women. she asked journalists rallied at her press conference after the 2018 US Open championship game – where she had argued with the judge and deducted a point – on whether a man would be punished so acutely for doing the same.

Serena Williams wonders if she would have been punished the same way if she had been a man at the 2018 US Open.

She has pushed the boundaries of women’s tennis while insisting women should be treated better by journalists and promoters and calling for tennis to end Wage differences between men and women on the pro tours.

The sports journalism scholarship suggests that the boundaries of the genre are rapidly changing. And the field is Shed his stick-to-sport ethosin part due to activist-minded athletes like Serena Williams.

Erin WhitesideAssociate Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media, University of Tennessee

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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