Communication is complex and subtle.
All living creatures communicate. Humans, of course, but much has been written about the communications of all the other primates, plus dogs, birds, insects.
And then there are the trees, grasses, and other plants that communicate by emitting chemicals into the air, water, and soil. These chemicals communicate to other plants that someone is being eaten or attacked in other ways, so that defensive measures might be taken.
There not only is intra-species communication, but inter-species communication, whereby the actions and cries of one species provide valuable information to other species.
Even bacteria communicate via many means, including “quorum sensing,” the release of chemicals that, in essence say, “There are enough of us to do as a group, a thing that individuals of us cannot do.”
And by this torturous road, we approach Serena Williams and the “f” word.
Serena is considered by many people, me included, to be the greatest female tennis player in history.
Her combination of speed, strength, guile, serving power, and her never-quit, incredible desire to win have been unequaled for more than twenty years.
So dominant is she, that had I merely referred to her as “Serena,” you probably would not have needed the “Williams” to know whom I meant.
Last night, Serena, age 36, lost to a player 16 years her junior, and perhaps that age difference alone tells much of the story.
But there is another part to the story, and that involves the “f” word.
No, not that “f” word.
Because communication is so complex and subtle, we have evolved many complex and subtle rules that differentiate acceptable vs. unacceptable communication.
For example, there is a hideous and hateful word, often and widely used in earlier times, that now is used only by the coarse and the bigoted, and even then only in coarse and bigoted situations. That word is “nigger.”
It is a bastardized version of “Negro,” which itself is considered impolitic in many settings, as is the word “colored” when referring to people, though mysteriously, “of color” is acceptable.
If we add “black” and “African American” to the list, we have a broad range of references to the same human feature. And this doesn’t include the various slang derogatory terms used to reference minorities, each with degrees of unacceptability, depending on audience and situation.
In today’s hypersensitive world, references formerly considered innocent, now are grouped under the title, “Shaming.”
Clicking the above link will reveal to you many sorts of shaming, all designed to separate and denigrate some subgroup that is different from you.
Part of shaming is the use of certain shaming words. One of those words is the “f” word. I mean, “fat.”
Politically, one does not refer to a person as “fat.” The more acceptable reference is “big,” or in clothing, “plus” size, or “not in condition,” or “out of shape,” even more gently, no reference at all, as though we are blind to all differences.
I do not know how Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, will reveal to her that part of the reason she lost yesterday is that she either is fat, big, plus, not in condition, or out of shape, if she isn’t already aware of it.
In her younger years, Serena moved to the ball like a lioness after a gazelle. She was a graceful ballerina, but with strength and power.
Yesterday she abandoned the rapid, lithe steps that formerly brought her into perfect hitting position. Instead, she stood flatfooted, and settled for taking a long, slow, laborious stride, punctuated by a lean and reach, that almost, but not quite, allowed her to stroke the ball properly.
She was (dare I say it?) a fat ballerina.
Perhaps she knows, but due to her sensitive physical condition (She almost has died on two separate occasions, the most recent, a year ago) and possibly sensitive emotional condition (after postpartum and losing in a second consecutive tennis major final), either cannot or will not change.
Or perhaps she believes, that given her age, her accomplishments, and her limited future in professional tennis, she doesn’t wish to go through the effort and discomfort of weight loss.
That Serena remains one of the world’s greatest players, is a testament to her will and her natural athleticism. But I, as an admirer, am sad to see this magnificent champion turn “large,” in a tutu bordering on the comical.
I suspect that if Mouratoglou somehow could communicate to her the need return to better “condition,” i.e. lose about 20 pounds, Serena still might have more championships left in her. Otherwise . . .
Communication, especially in the high-strung, sensitive world of professional sports is, as we said, complex and subtle. It requires great care and delicacy. But if anyone can do it, the Serena/Mouratoglou team can.
At least I hope so.
Serena seems like a very kind and moral person, a magnificent champion, and a good mother.
She is the G.O.A.T., who warmly hugged the young woman who defeated her and demanded the crowd to “stop booing,” lest the youngster’s victory not be tarnished.
Serena would not deserve to be remembered with the “f” word.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
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