TV Sports’ ‘Little, Teeny-Tiny, Super Cute White Hope’

Intern Katy Kelleher at the blog (9/9/09) has made a worthy attempt at “unpacking all the different levels of sexism and racism that are operating subtly behind the scenes” in recent coverage of professional women’s tennis.

On the new stardom of relatively diminutive and white Melanie Oudin, Kelleher remarks that “her accomplishments are definitely praiseworthy, but there is something off about the way she is being celebrated”:

She has been called the “darling” of the U.S. Open, America’s “sweetheart,” a “pint-sized, freckled-faced blonde from Georgia,” the “tiny little savior of women’s tennis,” everything it seems, save tennis’ “Great White Hope” (although given the media coverage of Oudin’s win, it would probably be more like the “little, teeny-tiny, super cute White Hope”).

Especially problematic was this article from the Daily Beast, which quoted ESPN sportscaster Michelle Beadle comparing Oudin to the Williams sisters. “From Day 1, I’ve never heard the Williams sisters referred to as sweethearts,” she said, which prompted Jez commenter sympathyforthebasementcat to remark:

Yes, there’s just something different about them. Americans just aren’t quite to fully relate to them. They just don’t seem like the type of girls that would live next door. Hmmm, what could it be?

Explaining how “every sportscaster reporting on Oudin feels the need to comment on how pretty she is” and “All-American,” seems to “fail to recognize the racism that lurks behind these terms,” Kelleher also looks at a New York Times column in which George Vecsey “says, unlike the Williams sisters, Oudin has fought her way up from the bottom”: “The crowd always loves upsets, which is one reason Venus Williams and Serena Williams are not universally loved at the Open.”

Kelleher’s response is to quote yet another sharp-witted Jezebel commenter:

What a shame the Williams sisters don’t have a rags-to-riches backstory. You know, like growing up in a poor neighborhood and being coached by a father who had zero experience of their sport, and fighting their way to success against the odds. Yep, that would have made a great story and endeared them to the public, right?