This is a guest post from Caitlin Moscatello, who has written for Sports Illustrated and Salon .
Pink. It’s the color of “pretty” things-lipstick, frosted cupcakes, Barbie’s dream house. And for the very same reason, it’s the shade female athletes have historically avoided. When the WNBA launched in 1996, not one team included pink on its uniforms. And when Billie Jean King pummeled Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes in 1973, one of the greatest moments in women’s sports, she did so in tennis whites.
And yet pink, with its implications of femininity, is the color of choice for Serena and Venus Williams, who entered this year’s U.S. Open ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in the world. (Venus is out, as of Sunday. Serena plays in the quarterfinals today.) Serena, sponsored by Nike, and Venus, wearing her label Eleven, both chose pink for their dresses … and shoes … and rackets. Serena has said that pink is her favorite color. But it’s hard to ignore the contrast between the Williams sisters’ shade of choice and the vulgar scrutiny they’ve endured for being muscular and female-and perhaps, muscular, female, and black.
It started back in 2001, when sportscaster Sid Rosenberg called then-20-year-old Venus an “animal” and added that Serena, 19 at the time, had a better chance of posing for National Geographic than Playboy . He went on to say both players were “disgusting” and referred to them as “boys.” Just this past June, Kevin Garside of the UK Telegraph wrote, “Billie Jean King had to play Jack Kramer to test herself against a masculine presence. The women have Venus and Serena.” (Garside failed to note that it was Riggs, not Kramer, whom King defeated.)
But the sad reality is that tennis, in many ways, has become a sport for “pretty things.” Despite the fact that Serena and Venus were the last women standing at Wimbledon (Serena defeated her sister in the final), they had been assigned to Courts One and Two instead of Centre Court during the tournament. Officials admitted that for female players, attractiveness was taken into consideration when assigning courts. Their reasoning: Presumably, male fans will buy tickets to see tall blondes play potentially mediocre tennis over “less attractive” women playing at the top of the game. Never mind that the Williams sisters have been two of the most highly-ranked tennis players for the past decade, combining for 18 Grand Slam singles titles and 9 Grand Slam doubles titles.
According to Forbes.com, Maria Sharapova-current president of tennis’s tall, blonde, and pretty club-earned $26 million last year (mostly through endorsements), despite missing the majority of the season with a shoulder injury. Even in this year’s Open, she failed to make it past the third round. Meanwhile Serena, who finished last season as No. 2 in the world, reportedly took home $14 million. And unlike Sharapova, she breezed through the early rounds of this year’s. She’ll also pair up with her sister to try for their third Gram Slam doubles title of the year. And she’ll do so-whether as a fashion statement or shield from “ugly” comments-in pink.