Taylor Townsend:<br />
Too Big for Tennis?

Dear Patrick McEnroe:

I write you to express my anger and disgust as to how you and the UTSA have treated Taylor Townsend.  Despite being the world’s #1 junior girl’s tennis player, and the future of American tennis, you decided to shut her out, to take away her financial support, and otherwise block her from entering tournaments.  You asked her “to stop competing?” And why?  Because you think she is too fat; because you think she needs to get into better shape and slim down.

Who died and made you Jillian Michaels? 

I am glad to see you decided to pay for Taylor’s travel costs from Chicago to New York.  Better late than never. How about you now apologize for publicly ridiculing and shaming a 16-year old girl?  How about you fly to Chicago to express your regret for not only punishing Taylor Townsend, but also embarrassing her in front of the world.  In what world do you live that you would think this strategy would be to her benefit?  There is no valid explanation for a bunch of middle-age males telling her what to eat, when to exercise, what to dress, and how to look.  I hope you realize how much you hurt her.  Let her words sink into your skinny head: “It was definitely shocking. I was actually very upset. I cried. I was actually devastated. I mean, I worked really hard, you know, it’s not by a miracle that I got to number one.”

I hope you understand that you follow in a long tradition of sexist institutions that have told women and girls, particularly those of color, that they are inadequate and ugly; that they are undesirable, and so disgusting that they should not even be in public.  This was the message you sent to Taylor and millions of other girls.  If you can’t get this idea through your thick privileged skull, head over to Sports Illustrated to read the words of Courtney Nguyen.

The implications of your statements and actions are disturbing on so many levels, especially given the epidemic of eating disorders and body image struggles inside and outside of sports.  Training session in the library?

Maybe the USTA needs a few more women in its ranks (as suggested by Lindsey Davenport); maybe its men should check their racial and gender privilege at the locker room.  You have a training program for that?  Given her ample success on the court, I can’t help but think your sexist shaming has NOTHING to do with her play on the court; your claims for concern about her “health” are absurd and offensive.  This all seems to reflect your desire to produce a profitable commodity.  Do you think she can only be successful if she wins titles and covers of Maxim? Are you searching for a great tennis player...or a body to market to men throughout the nation?  Irrespective of your intent, your methods and message are disgusting. 

Is it just a coincidence that the two girls/women who have been chastised, ridiculed and demonized for their weight, for their body, for their appearance, are both African-American?  Did that even cross your mind?  It is hard to look at this as anything but racism and sexism, as yet another African-American tennis phenomenon dominating the White world of tennis only to face unfair criticism. Yet another Black female tennis player being reduced to her body parts, prodded, and examine as if her worth and value could be measured by your hands.  To get back on the court, will you examine her, checking to see if she meets your expectations?  Disgusting. 

Pat, I wonder what you weighted when you played, as you were never #1 in the world.  I recall you being rather skinny.  How did that work out?  How many titles? One single’s title, really?  I thought it had to be about the skinniness.  Or are such demands reserved for girls and women? 

Once you are done apologizing and donating money to other groups committed to improving the health of American youth (not through shaming), can you please do me a favor: go into your office and train your mind.  Don’t come out until you have learned something.

Best,

David Leonard (an avid fan of tennis, but not the USTA)

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David J. Leonard, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University