What Threatens Us So Much About the Superb Black Female Athlete? Musings from a Woman Just Glad to Share the Same Air with Goddesses
Simone Biles makes me cry. There is something about watching almost freakish athletic ability that sends my heart soaring so high that it’s impossible to watch.
Yet she barks at herself for a single mistake. A mistake, that had she even had multiple mistakes, wouldn’t have kept her from winning another gold medal.
She is outlandishly talented.
Yet people actually had the nerve to go after her about her hair. Her hair.
After she just did what no gymnast has ever done in the history of the sport, what, are they going to go after her nose? Her nails? Her choice of breakfast cereal?
What frightens people so much that they would go after a goddess about her hair?
She didn’t just nail her routine. Her landing. She nailed a place in history. And we got to watch.
Caster Semenya makes me cry. She is incredibly talented, super-humanly fast. She happens to inhabit a body that naturally provides her with the ability to leave others far behind, watching the soles of her shoes fade into history.
Yet the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Semenya, perhaps the greatest (trans) runner of our time, couldn’t run because of doping. Her body was doping itself, therefore it was illegal, in effect.
She was different. She’s Black. Transgender.
How is it acceptable to go after this goddess for what her body naturally does, ban her from the sport for which she is so superbly constructed, and keep the rest of the world from watching and celebrating her supremacy?
What frightens people so much about her?
Why didn’t anyone similarly go after Michael Phelps, whose size and unusually long arms give him a genetic advantage in swimming? Nobody told him to have surgery to shorten his arms.
Oh. He’s white. Male. Safe.
Caster Sememya is scary.
She was finally cleared to run, but that battle is hardly over.
Serena Williams makes me cry.
At 38, Williams is probably the greatest female athlete- or even any athlete- of our time. Her wins, comebacks, tournaments after pregnancy have established her in a class of one.
One. Nobody. Even. Comes. Close.
Yet she has been subjected to the most brutal of scrutiny about her powerful, athletic body (read: not tall, lithe, willowy, blonde, white). Fellow players- whom she roundly beat- attacked her in print. Her life is a study in how racist, fearful people throw shit on superior talent, competence and grace.
She’s lost it at times. You would too, you carry her burdens.
She owns her own damned mountain.
Ayesha McGowan makes me cry.
Don’t know her name? There’s a good reason for that.
She’s going to be the first Black woman pro cyclist. Talk about an uphill climb. Not only is it damned near impossible for women to get recognition (there is no Tour de France for women, despite plenty of damned good women cyclists) but a Black woman?
She’s going to do it, too. Because it’s time.
You and I are living in an era of Supergirls. Black women who are changing the games, shifting the rules, challenging our bullshit about who should compete. And if not, why not? To me, anyway, these women are the very leading edge of what is going to fundamentally change the conversation around sports. Not just sports for Black Women.
All sports. All of us.
Semenya is pushing the question of the ridiculous assumption that a person’s body has be doped to meet the non-doping standards.
Robin Williams would have one hell of a good time with that one.
Simone Biles forces us to grapple with what happens when superb talent meets sexual predator. And we let it happen. How much of her drive is dealing with her demons? I have no idea. But she is turning her pain into triumph, and by doing so, forcing us to face how society disregards our girls. Especially our young Black girls.
Williams? Hell. Serena just pushes. She pushes the boundaries of being female, being Black, being an aging tennis athlete in a sport that eats its young. She is pushing our boundaries about bodies, women’s bodies, how muscle is beautiful and feminine, how you can be a professional athlete, married, a mother and reign supreme in your sport still in your mid- to late-thirties.
McGowan is forcing the issue around Black women in cycling, women getting proper backing in their sports (Women’s Soccer, anyone?), and the simple reality that age isn’t a factor. She began at 26.
These women, who are paying the price of being outliers, are redefining not only their sports, but the conversations around color, around women, around gender, around racism in sports.
Of course they make us uncomfortable. They have each grabbed a part of our foundations and are shaking them hard.
They are fierce. Righteously fierce, simply by virtue of their extraordinary-ness. Fierce frightens the weak, the easily-threatened.
Of course institutions (run largely by white males) attack them. Of course they get assaulted (mostly by white males). Of course they have to struggle for funding (largely by companies owned and run by white males).
Greatness tends to scare the holy shit out of people,especially when it comes in a package that their upbringing tells them doesn’t fit the mold.
This is what it looks like when it’s working.
These women are as eloquent with their bodies as Toni Morrison was ever elegant with her words. That they are also outspoken is also what scares folks. But people are listening to greatness, greatness that demands to be heard. These women speak for every little Black girl child, every gender nonspecific child, every child who ever dreamed of What Could Be,but thought, that’s not for me.
Jackie Robinson did, too. Look how that turned out. Kenny Washington paved the way for Blacks to sign contracts in the NFL. Look at how that turned out.
This is how the world changes. When extraordinary people do extraordinary things, and force extraordinary shifts in what we think is possible.
Sports writers are saying that Simone Biles has marked out a place in history that no other gymnast will ever touch. The same way Secretariat ran a Belmont that stands to this day as the greatest race ever run.
My bet? All these women, and many more, will be redefining our definition of what’s possible.
Perhaps the next time I write an article like this, perhaps I will be able to get photos of superb Black women athletes on Unsplash.
You get my drift.
We have a long way to go. But it’s coming.
And we are breathing the air of gods and goddesses.