Published on the eve of the US Open, Time magazine's September 3
cover story was a profile on how Venus and Serena Williams epitomize the
exciting future of women's tennis. But what had the media talking were
controversial comments made by No. 1-ranked tennis star Martina Hingis
about the Williams sisters.
Time quoted Hingis as saying, "Being black only helps them. Many times
they get sponsors because they are black. And they have had a lot of
advantages because they can always say, 'It's racism.' They can always
come back and say, 'Because we are this color, things happen.'"
Nearly half of the stories that carried Hingis' comments also carried
the reaction of the Williams sisters. Serena appeared graceful as she
stated, "All I know is I get endorsements because I win and I work
hard ... As for being black and getting more endorsements because I'm
black, I wouldn't know anything about that" (The Miami Herald, August
Aside from carrying a response from the Williams sisters, coverage most
frequently turned against Hingis. In the aftermath of the Time article,
The New York Times (August 28) reported, "Hingis has a history of
putting her foot in her mouth." The New York Daily News (August 28) took
a more direct tone: "It isn't Hingis' fault that she doesn't grasp the
black American consciousness. It's just that she should probably shut up
now about it, before things get worse."
The New York Daily News (August 27) was also one of the few media
outlets to put the quote in context, explaining what had prompted the
Hingis and many others questioned exactly why Venus bowed out of a match
scheduled against her sister in the semifinals at the Indian Wells
There was speculation that Venus had done this to avoid a head-to-head
battle with her sister. Hingis complained no one wanted to investigate
why this had happened.
Coverage appeared divided about whether Hingis' explanation at the US
Open constituted an apology or not. The Hartford News (August 28)
reported that Hingis was sorry, but Cox News (August 27) reported no
Hingis' explanation seemed weak and vague, so it's easy to see how
reporters interpreted her words in different ways. Hingis stated, "I'm
sorry if I hurt anybody's feelings, but I think at the time I meant it,
probably not in the same way. I think I was right at that time ... I
just maybe said something, which is not politically correct. I don't
know all the laws, all the rules, what's going on in this country. If
you expect that from me, it's too much."
Some reporters took the sisters to task over some of their comments,
which were perceived as arrogant. Others hinted that Hingis' snipes were
motivated by jealousy since she hasn't won a major tournament in some
time. Finally, a few reports acknowledged that while the Williams
sisters have never discussed race, their father/coach has been outspoken
on the subject.
The general consensus appears to be that although the Williams sisters
are great players, they're not very warm and fuzzy characters.
Similarly, Hingis doesn't seem to be gaining fans with her remarks, and
is developing a bad reputation. But whatever the personalities, women's
tennis is shaping up as a must-see event.
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be
found at www.carma.com.