For those of us who Stan unapologetically for Serena Jameka Williams (pronounced “Wee-yums”) without closely following the sport of tennis, the name Maria Sharapova is likely associated with mediocrity, defeat and the idea that even superstar Black athletes are not spared from the wage gap that exists across racial lines globally.
Fans of the woman (Miss Wee-yums) who is currently the number one female player in the sport seem to be more offended than she is at the fact that the Russian-born Sharapova is the highest paid female athlete. While true tennis fans can tell you that being ranked number 7 in the world is no small feat, it’s certainly not the top spot and it also doesn’t help that she’s gotten demolished by Williams in 17 of 19 match-ups.
Facts and stats aside, we know how America—and beyond—feels about pretty blondes and powerful Black women, and the treatment of both women in the public eye has reflected that greatly. So when I learned this week that Sharapova has been doping, it was hard not to have a good, long, loud laugh at the news. Not just because she’s been cheating and still somehow losing to the great Serena—most people lose to Serena because that’s what you do when you play Serena, you lose—but because commentators, fans and so many others have hated so hard on the dominance that Serena and sister Venus have had in this sport. The cheating, substance-taking Sharapova has been presented as a counterpoint for no other reason than her race and appearance. Now, she isn’t just falling from grace, she’s crashing to the ground.
Imagine, just for a moment, that it had been Williams who admitted that she was using a performance-enhancing drug to gain an unfair advantage on the court. How excited people would be to discover that her incredible abilities were due, at least in part, to cheating. Because if we are honest, much of the response to her victories has felt like detractors do feel that she is cheating, or taking something that she doesn’t deserve. How dare a Black girl—especially who looks like that, with that body, and that hair, and those clothes—show up and just take this sport from those who thought they owned it, right?
Sharapova’s news hasn’t garnered nearly as much media response as one may have expected—but perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising. I’d have thought there may have been a rush to defend her, to make excuses or plead for us to wait until all the facts are presented, but the relative silence could be the result of folks deliberately looking the other way or simply waiting to see what will come in terms of punishment from the Women’s Tennis Association. As Vanity Fair’s Michael Steinburger suggests, the 28-year-old’s advanced age in the world of tennis and declining game may make her “expendable in a way that she perhaps wasn’t three or four years ago.” Alas, I’d still bet money that there will be at least a few notable attempts at defending her or suggesting that a fall from grace would be unfair—at least one writer has tried this already.
Russian, blonde and considered beautiful by many of those who are unable to see that same in our Compton-bred goddess, Sharapova was the one who fit the ideal and she hasn’t been able to beat Williams in over a decade. Now that we know that she isn’t playing fair, those defeats seem even sweeter, like we got an extra week of Black History Month or something. This may be petty, small or even inappropriate, but I honestly don’t care. This is what “they” (the proverbial “they,” the ones DJ Khaled talks about, the haters, the bigots, they) get. Your perfect princess isn’t perfect. She made a wrong move, a dishonest one, and it may be too late for her to recover as a player. Still, I wish Sharapova a fair investigation and the same opportunities to redeem herself that Williams would get if she had been the one at that pitiful podium.