What to make of the recent Wozniacki-Williams towel-stuffing tennis incident?
In an exhibition match against Maria Sharapova in Brazil last week, Caroline Wozniacki mocked Serena Williams by stuffing her shirt and skirt with towels. It was not the first time Wozniacki has performed her towel-enhanced impression. The two tennis players are reported to be friends.
The incident was the topic of discussion this week everywhere from Jezebel, to ESPN, to The View, with the commentary largely focused on whether or not Wozniacki is being racist, funny, or just plain dumb and insensitive when doing this.
“It’s sad how Serena Williams is one of the best tennis players in the entire world and yet her importance still gets reduced down to her body shape simply because her physique doesn’t match the majority of her fellow female tennis players,” Madeleine Davies writes for Jezebel. “Fucked up as it is, it makes sense that they [her fellow tennis players on the tour] would make fun of her body; turning her into a caricature or a joke will make it easier to stomach all the times she wipes the floor with them.”
Over at ESPN, Jess Mendoza and Julie Foudy, softball and soccer stars respectively, suggested Wozniacki’s impression should be seen as more of a joke than an insult, noting that these types of acts happen often on the tour.
With which columnist Jemele Hill agrees. “I understand why it made some black people uncomfortable. For years, Williams’ body has been scrutinized in a way that is drastically different from her professional female peers,” Hill writes for ESPN. “Unlike a lot of the other female tennis players, Williams is powerfully built. She’s not a stick figure, and flaunts her voluptuous frame.”
“Williams’ physical assets aren’t considered the norm,” Hill continues, “since on nearly every women’s magazine cover (and not a few targeted at men) there seems to be a rail-thin teenage girl. Even in sports, most of the female athletes who are widely considered “hot” are shaped more like magazine models.”
But in the end, Hill determines that while Wozniacki’s joke “picked at some cultural insecurities,” it was done in the spirit of jest. “Wozniacki might not exactly be Tina Fey, but she certainly isn’t Mel Gibson.”
Others, though, are clearly uncomfortable.
“I know they’re friends,” Sherri Shepherd offered on The View, “but still it does something inside of me because we’ve been made fun of for so long for different parts of our body. And to see Serena Williams reduced to this, I don’t like it.”
To which Woopi Goldberg added by asking the question, “Why Serena? What is it about her?”
Regardless of the intent of Wozniacki’s impression, tennis has long been perceived as a white, country club sport. The Williams sisters, who happen to be two of the best the game has ever known, are African-American, and grew up in L.A. on the public courts of Compton, surrounded by “gangs and guns,” as Venus recalls. This reality seems very present whenever considering their tennis domination over the past however-many-years.
As some have suggested, if Wozniacki really wants to impersonate Williams, she should aim for Serena’s remarkable 14 Grand Slam championships. Obviously, a much tougher task.