I don’t know sports, but I know Tennis. No, that’s an exaggeration. What I mean is I know Serena Williams. I started watching and playing (mostly watching) tennis because Venus and Serena played tennis. Everything about them was perfection to me; I wanted beads in my hair, I wanted the cute, short tennis dresses- I wanted to be them. If you know Serena Williams, you know Maria Sharapova, one of only 10 women to hold a Career Grand Slam and the highest earning woman athlete in the world for the past eleven years.
When it was revealed earlier this week that Sharapova failed a drugs test and faces suspension from the sport for between 2 and 4 years, I sipped that piping hot tea and got my life. You see, last year it emerged that while Serena Williams owns 21 Grand Slam titles and Maria Sharapova only owns 5, the latter earns more financially through endorsement deals and prize money. The New Yorker, explain that while Williams is the “Greatest American Athlete” she is not as marketable as Sharapova because of “American prejudice, sexism, and racism, which manifest every time viewers, mostly men, are moved to remark on Williams’s body in a way that reveals what might most charitably be called discomfort.” Seeing people run to defend Sharapova has been both interesting and troubling to watch. Last year when people were saying Williams looked more like “male boxer or linebacker than like a women’s tennis player” you’d be hard pressed to find as many main stream articles defending Williams as there are defending Sharapova and her millions. “Maria Sharapova loses 3 major endorsements in one day after her first bad drug test” read the title of one Mashable.com article bemoaning the treatment of the Tennis darling. You can literally smell the salt of the tears cried when this piece was written when you hit the stunning final paragraph.
“You can’t have an aspirational brand that no human being can live up to,” says Ted Florea, chief strategy officer at marketing and branding agency PNYC. “The standard to be perfect could create brands that run out of actual human beings who are fit to sponsor."
What this article and many across the interwebs are doing is begging brands, sports and their governing bodies to bend to accommodate Sharapova’s awe-inspiring failure while ignoring that what she has done is both negligent and just plain cheating.
The facts are
- the drug she was taking Melodinium is not even legal in the US where she has lived for 21 years according to Dick Pound (awesome name), former head of WADA the body
- Sharapova was warned 5 times that the drug was on the banned list of substances
- The drug is only supposed to be taken for a 4-6 week period and Maria Sharapova has been taking it for 10 years
More than a race issue this situation is a mediocrity issue. Compared to Williams, Sharapova is a mediocre athlete. Not only is she mediocre on the court, but irresponsible and reckless off it. Her body is her responsibility and the tool with which she makes money, the fact that “I didn’t didn’t click the link” is seen as a reasonable excuse for why she failed a drugs test is laughable. And laugh I did. Sharapova’s whiteness and “marketability” mean I have had to watch people online fall over themselves to defend her mediocrity. It is sad because we all know should Serena Williams ever fall from grace as spectacularly no such support, defence or protection will be offered to her. Off to obscurity with Marion Jones you go.