Sexist Joke About Serena & Venus Williams 'Brothers' Gets Russian Tennis Federation President Fined
It seems like no matter how decorated and accomplished women can become, there's always still some jerk with a sexist remark waiting around the corner. For example, take Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev — he's been fined for his sexist, derogatory remark on Venus and Serena Williams, and that's a good thing. After all, if even the Williams sisters can't escape such casually sexist cracks, demigods of the tennis court that they are, who can?
Tarpischev was on a Russian television talk show when he made the offending joke, and really, it's as basic and effortless as they come. Instead of accurately referring to the star duo as the Williams sisters, you see, he called the the "Williams brothers." Get it? They're world-class athletes, so they don't look like women! Of course, that might not be the reason. It could also just be one of those uniquely pernicious gendered insults that tend to follow around women of color, successful black women especially — Tarpischev also claimed the pair were "scary" to look at, according to the AP.
But whatever the intent behind it, this much is absolutely clear: this is overt sexism by a major official, in a sport that ought be a celebration of women's athletic prowess, not a source of cheap jokes.
Tarpischev was fined $25,000 for his comments, and received even further sanctions — the Women's Tennis Association has banned from any involvement with the women's circuit for one year, a punishment cheered by Serena Williams, who has responded with rightful indignation to Tarpischev's comments.
I think the WTA did a great job of taking initiative and taking immediate action to his comments. I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying.
To be clear, this isn't the first time the Williams sisters have faced bigoted remarks, not by a long shot. Dominating at a sport that's typically synonymous with more affluent and privileged communities — in America at the very least — these two black women, raised for a time in Compton, California have faced overt prejudice before.
After Venus withdrew from her semi-final match against Serena at the Indian Wells tournament in Southern California back in 2001, she received a hostile reception from the crowd when she arrived to watch Serena play for the championship. Her father Richard Williams claimed at the time that they were showered with racial epithets, a scene he revisited in his book Black and White, which was released in May.
The chorus of boos that cascaded through the stadium sent a powerful message to America, to Venus, to Serena, and to me. It was a message from the past, one America tries to put behind it but can never forget. It was a snapshot from the days when the open humiliation of the black race was accepted without question. Accusations and racial epithets flew through the stadium.
At the very least, Tarpischev's nonsense serves to prove that bigoted jokes and stereotypes aren't just an American problem, however. When the AP asked him on Saturday about the remarks, he didn't exactly give a conciliatory reply, insisting he was on a "humorous" talk show: "I can't comment. I don't understand it." As for the $25,000 fine and the yearlong ban from women's tennis, though? It's safe to say he understands that, now.
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