Serena Williams is many things, but first and foremost, one of the greatest athletes of all-time. If that point isn’t clear enough, that means male or female, black or white, Serena is one of the best athletes ever. Needless to say, for many, her recognition by Sports Illustrated as sportsperson of the year feels nice albeit quite late on arrival. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped some people from crying foul – notably in the defense of a damn horse.
Some – majorly white, male, and seemingly bored out of their minds online – have argued that American Pharoah, horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years deserves the honor. The horse winning the magazine’s readers’ poll for the award fuels their stance. There are so many problems with this line of thinking.
Let me count the ways.
For starters, the award is named sportsperson of the year. A horse is not a person. I’m sure, #AllMammalsMatter in select cases, but not this one. Already, sites like SBNation have mocked these people rallying for the humanity of a horse. It’s worth a chuckle, but you instantly cringe once you realize that to people like this, the value of an animal will also matter more than the life let alone the accomplishments of a Black person.
Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s Christian Stone was quite clear about Williams’ selection, writing: “Sports Illustrated honors her dominance in 2015, when she won 53 of her 56 matches, three of the four Grand Slam events and built the most yawning ranking points gap between her and her closest competitor in tennis history. We honor her, too, for a career of excellence, her stranglehold on the game’s No. 1 ranking and her 21 Grand Slam titles, a total that has her on the brink of Steffi Graf’s Open Era Slam record, which Williams will likely eclipse by mid-summer.”
No offense to the horse, but this is the part where everyone – horse included – ought to bow down.
But if there were not enough validation, Stone added a more honest omission about the unique barriers Williams face yet manages to excel despite them: “We are honoring Serena Williams too for reasons that hang in the grayer, less comfortable ether, where issues such as race and femininity collide with the games. Race was used as a cudgel against Williams at Indian Wells in 2001, and she returned the blow with a 14-year self-exile from the tournament. She returned to Indian Wells in ’15, a conciliator seeking to raise the level of discourse about hard questions, the hardest ones, really.”
Things beyond her control have long affected Williams: namely her race and gender. Even in the context of an honor she deserved (and again, deserved earlier than when she actually got it), racial politics came into play. Enter the Los Angeles Times, who published a story validating the opinions of morons who have ranked a horse higher than Serena Williams.
In response to the rightful pushback, the publication tweeted the following from its Twitter account: “We’ve changed the headline and photo on this story to treat it with greater sensitivity. Thank you for your feedback.”
This apology reads hollow. If they were concerned with sensitivity, they would have never bothered to compare a Black woman to a horse – particularly on the strength of pushback from critics majorly fueled by racism and sexism. The Los Angeles Times did this for clicks, nothing more, nothing less. The article remains published on its site and regardless of the header, it’s original sin remains intact and readily available for consumption.
That makes them just as guilty of taking Serena’s humanity for granted.
Regardless of what has been said, though, Serena’s recognition will not be tainted. She is a testament to the power and durability of Black excellence. A reminder that matter what is said about her and despite all attempts to discredit what she’s done and continues to do, she remains a winner. The only pity here goes to those who can’t look past her aesthetics to see that.