Maria Sharapova and White Mediocrity

By Alexandria Mason

This week, five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova was provisionally banned from professional tennis after testing positive for an endurance enhancing drug, meldonium.

The Russian athlete has been using the drug under the name “mildronate” for 10 years as a prescription for her irregular heartbeat and the history of diabetes in her family. World Anti-Doping Agency banned the use of meldonium in January.

Why does this matter?

Black tennis star Serena Williams has won the Grand Slam 21 times and defeated Sharapova 18 times. Although Williams has won quadruple the number of Grand Slams as Sharapova, the Russian star continues to be the highest paid female athlete in the world at $195 million.

Cue the white mediocrity. Sharapova is making nearly $50 million more than Williams. $50 million! Even though Sharapova is only the third most successful active tennis player behind two black women who own the first two places – Serena Williams and twin sister Venus Williams.

I can only think of the bigotry and misogyny that has remained present throughout our girl Serena’s career, and how detrimental such a scandal would’ve been for a black woman in tennis — a sport where she doesn’t receive the recognition nor money that she deserves. Constantly breaking records, Williams still has to break through the wall of sexism and racism that belittles her abilities on the court.

Williams wasn’t included on the list of tennis dopers. However, a quick Google search of her name with the word “steroids” reveals a plethora of headlines questioning if her talent and muscular physique could be the result of foul play. The rhetoric from media outlets following her victories accused Williams of earning her victories by taking enhancers – because naturally any black woman literally serving white women a taste of her black girl magic from all corners of the globe can’t possibly be just using talent and skill alone.

Photos appear that show Williams’ muscles glistening, her mouth in a tight grit or wide open with veins and muscle cuts on full display with critics comparing her to a gorilla or a man. Before two days ago few accusations of steroid use were attached to Sharapova’s name.

I wonder if this will rock Sharapova’s career. Will she lose her spot as the top earning athlete? Will other endorsers follow Nike’s suit and pull their contracts with her? Will the media tear her to shreds? Because too often in all arenas of life, we see white mediocrity continuously be rewarded while the talent and hard work of black people are dimmed or ignored completely.

Endorsers flock to Sharapova because she is the standard of beauty that white America is comfortable with. She’s thin and fair skinned. And she wins – just not when it comes to the Williams sisters. Her mass of earnings from endorsements reflects not her superiority, but rather white privilege – despite two black women having better skills, more titles, and gold medals. This scandal only strengthens her mediocrity; even with the enhancers, she couldn’t match up to Williams. Indeed, she hasn’t beat Williams in 11 years and counting.

The media have told Serena she was too buff, too manly, too strong, and too arrogant to be beautiful. Yet we see her rise to the occasion each and every year to show the complexities of femininity and how she defines her own. And she is classy to boot. Even as Williams has the perfect HA! Moment in front of her, she shows support for her rival and says that she admires her courage to come forth.

This drug scandal of Sharapova’s is only another example of white mediocrity holding greater precedence than black excellence. I can only hope endorsers and commentators alike can finally accept Williams as the greatest active tennis player and embrace her exceptional talent, beauty, and confidence on the court rather than discrediting her for the sake of upholding white America’s comfort.

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