One of the great myths about America is that it is supposed to be the land of redemption. The story goes that this is a country in which the greatest sinners and miscreants can turn their lives around and receive a second chance at success. It is a country for example, where a woman who makes a sex tape for profit can end up getting married on a reality show and actually get hailed as America’s royalty, her wedding photos plastered on the front page of People magazine as if she is some kind of princess – albeit one with an ass way too massive to possibly feel the pea.
What America is not supposed to be is a country in which people continue to be defined by their past mistakes. But the truth is that the first version of America seems to happen largely to white folk. Casey Anthony may be being hounded by the media today, but give her a year or two and she too will be on the cover of People magazine. Certainly she is guaranteed to land there the next time she gets pregnant. It may be hard to see that possibility now because she is so widely despised, but there will come a day when she will be given the chance to redeem herself. That is how white America rolls.
But black people in this country know that their reality is that they continue to be defined by their mistakes. I’m not saying that no black folk ever get a chance at redemption, because they do. But alongside any grudging chances to prove that they have changed, runs an endless chatter about how messed up they used to be. And nowhere is this divide more sickening than in the world of tennis.
Take John McEnroe for example. He made a career out of being an asshole. He was such an asshole back in the day that when asked to comment on the assholish behavior of current tennis players, he invariably has the grace to say that he really should not be the one commenting. John once almost hit a kid with a full bottle of water during one of his legendary temper tantrums. His constant declarations of “You cannot be serious!” to the Chair ended up becoming his signature catchphrase and the title of his autobiography (which I still have not finished reading, it is so poorly written).
Today Johnny Mac is a respectable commentator for the Tennis Channel. In fact I will let the TC’s recent announcement serve as example of the incredible white-washing to which McEnroe has been subjected: “As one of the most recognizable and credible television analysts in tennis today, McEnroe has captivated sports fans since bringing his fiery personality to the pro tennis scene in the late 1970s.” See how that works?
And then there is Donald Young. I don’t know about you but I am getting slightly sick of listening to tennis commentators rehash the story about how Donald Young’s parents messed up, about how Young’s father once brashly declared that his son was going to be a future #1 and would win many Grand Slams, and about how the great selfless USTA rescued Donald from this atrocious situation and helped him to a better career.
It’s not that none of these facts are true. In fact I myselfhave written before about the hype around Donald Young and what a disservice that was to him. But in 2011 Donald Young has been playing superb tennis. The benefits of his training regimen are being seen in wins over Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, and most recently Juan Ignacio Chela. Young has climbed into the top 100 in the singles rankings. Surely all of this is enough to consider changing the conversation about him? Surely he has hard-earned some redemption?
And then there is Serena Williams. Her outburst at the US Open two years ago clearly resulted in a mature decision to learn how to manage emotional stress. For this she has been criticized, and Mary Jo in particular has attracted my wrath on this issue. Now whenever Serena plays, the ESPN commentary team starts their introduction with a re-hashing of the 2009 incident. It has taken on a life of its own. Redemption is nowhere in sight.
In fact I don’t think that even winning the 2011 US Open will give Serena any kind of redemption. Unlike Johnny Mac who has enjoyed a multiplicity of redemptive chances, Serena has never been given a pass. I fear that her tennis career will continue to be defined by a singular mistake.