36 Responses

  1. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne June 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm |

    Hannah, I don’t disagree with a word you wrote, but I would say that you probably spent an hour or two or more writing that comment I further suspect that you went back over it several times to make sure that your words were as congruent with your thoughts as possible. And I think it likely that you edited some of your initial comments because they did not adequately express your sentiments.

    Do you think that the journalist quoting Serena Williams offered her that same option? To review her remarks and possibly edit them before publishing them? Or do you think that he smiled cynically as he recorded, manually or electronically, remarks that had nothing whatever to do with the purpose of the article?

    In my opinion, sitting on those ill-judged comments for three months and then publishing them the week before Wimbledon constitutes the worst kind of “gotcha journalism.”

    Serena has apologized for her remarks, as well she should, and she needs to do a little soul-searching.

    And so do we, those of us who confuse silly tweets and juvenile gossip-mongering with serious journalism.

    1. Laura
      Laura June 19, 2013 at 7:08 pm |

      Serena has NOT “apologised for her remarks”, The coward wont even admit that she said it.

    2. Sara
      Sara June 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm |

      I don’t know about you, but I’ve never blamed a victim in an unedited conversation. That’s like defending the use of the N-word in the heat of the moment. Most decent people don’t THINK these things to begin with!

      She apologized to the families of “the accused.” That says it all.

    3. Jewell
      Jewell June 20, 2013 at 1:40 am |

      Hi Patrick – to me those unthinking assumptions are exactly the problem here. We saw them repeated again and again after the case, we see them threaded into stories about it even now. Setting aside any issues about underage drinking, the media has barely even picked up on the “virgin” remark that Hannah highlighted – why on earth should virginity or otherwise make any difference?

      Rape is rape. No consent, no go. End of. No qualifications needed.

      I’d like to think that Serena will think over some of the criticism and maybe even recognise it and over time, change her mind – but more, I’d like to think that the discussion generated by her comments will change many more minds.

      I’m not very hopeful though. The reactions of many make it clear that fan allegiance trumps everything else – either allegiance for or against Serena. It’s incredibly disheartening to read some comment sections and see people saying “Well, the girl was stupid,” or “Maybe she was promiscuous anyway.” It’s heartbreaking to see, yet again, the victim put on trial, and the focus on her rather than the perpetrators of the crime.

      1. Patrick of La Verne
        Patrick of La Verne June 20, 2013 at 9:09 am |

        Hi, Jewell

        Again, I’m not defending what Serena allegedly said, and I’m certainly not defending what those boys did, or blaming the young woman.

        I *am* questioning whether the reporter quoted her remarks in their entirety or whether he cherry-picked a few words here and there that he knew would sell magazines.

        Here’s what I wrote to Jon Wertheim

        Jon, when you opine on a topic, I suspect you go back over your remarks to make sure that they express your feelings as accurately as possible, yes? And that as often as not, you edit your initial remarks because they might not quite make your point in the most fair and effective way.

        Don’t you think that a journalist, who happens to hear an off-the-cuff comment about something completely unrelated to the subject of his interview, especially one who has been invited into her home, ought to extend an interviewee the same option that the journalist has, i.e. to alter and extend her remarks? Obviously Serena thought that the interviewer was a ‘friendly’ or she never would have agreed to the interview in the first place.

        Shouldn’t the interviewer respect that trust by saying, “Serena, this is what I have you down as saying. Would you like to take a day or two to look these remarks over to make sure they accurately represent your feelings? After all, we’ve got lots of time, because we’re not going to publish them until the week before Wimbledon, some three months from now, when we can really blow you out of the water if you said something hastily or inarticulately.

        1. Jewell
          Jewell June 20, 2013 at 10:27 am |

          I think I read your comment there this morning. You could well be right about the journalist but for me, this isn’t really about Serena (and I’m not interested in hating her forever over this, although I am disappointed – as I would be if, say, Rafa made similar comments), this is about the general societal attitudes behind her remarks. As Wertheim’s correspondent pointed out, a lot of people think this way. That’s the issue I’d prefer to focus on. If that makes any sense.

        2. AmyLu
          AmyLu June 20, 2013 at 11:46 am |

          Hi Patrick — I am just curious if you’ve read any of Rolling Stone’s other profile pieces? They really are designed to be a profile where a journalist follows the subject for a day (or sometimes more) and essentially paints a portrait of his/her life. They often focus on what the subject does, their interactions with others — all things observed by the journalist. They can be brutal; they are often a no-holds-back look. Justin Bieber, for example, came off looking incredibly poorly in his, in my opinion. They are not traditional interviews. So that’s something Serena and her PR team should have been well aware of and known. Rolling Stone rarely does long pieces based on standard interviews — the only recent ones I can think of were with Obama and Joe Biden.

          Regardless, I agree with Jewell completely on where I think the discussion should be. For me, it’s not about Serena, it’s about the societal attitudes we have towards rape and rape victims.

          1. Patrick of La Verne
            Patrick of La Verne June 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

            Hello, AmyLu.

            I’ve never bought a Rolling Stone Magazine, and probably haven’t even glanced at more than one or two of their stories in my life. It doesn’t surprise me to hear you say that they’ve done hatchet jobs before; I’ll wager a year’s subscription that it did surprise Serena when their reporter proceeded to do an unflattering portrayal ** of her. I feel quite confident in suggesting that the possibility of an interview was not broached to her in those terms.

            I don’t quarrel at all with your point that the central point of the Steubenville story in its entirety has to do with societal attitudes about rape victims. And I am probably nearly as appalled as you are that the judge passed out minimum sentences to some of the perpetrators, and, if I’m not mistaken, took no action whatever against some of those who tweeted pictures and videos of the victim in distress. I don’t know if those contemptible idiots broke any laws, but if they didn’t we need to write some new ones.

            I would just say, though, that the reporter’s article was supposed to be about Serena Williams, not her reaction to whatever CNN (or whoever) was showing on the news that day.

            And that in this forum, a discussion of reportorial tactics and ethics is as appropriate, and not a whole lot less important than one about societal values regarding rape.

            The decline of standards in journalism — print, broadcast, and online — over the last few decades is a very serious issue — and one which is, for obvious reasons, rarely discussed by the journalists who chair our national conversation.

            ** There were any number of snide little digs at her and her familly in the story, aside from the Steubenville story.

  2. tclairel
    tclairel June 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |

    I like what you have written and agree with the majority of the content. I’m not certain i agree that Serena is ‘furthering’ myths about rape and rape victims, but agree with the notion she is reflecting the culture of victim blaming.

    I have not enjoyed reading this on a tennis blog – I understand why this discussion is happening here but I still don’t like it

  3. Survivor
    Survivor June 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm |

    Hannah, great article. Sadly I was hurt but not shocked by Williams’ comments. I too have been raped in blackout and when my mother found out, the first thing she said was “Well, you were drunk; maybe you wanted to go with him?”

    Which is why these words – “Women needing to believe on some level, in order to stay sane, that society has rules and that following those rules will keep them safe; hence the drive to interrogate the behaviour of a victim so that we can tell ourselves that we would not act like that and therefore it won’t happen to us. Acknowledging the truth – that rape can happen to anyone, be perpetrated by anyone, at any time and in any circumstances – is simply too traumatic.” particularly resonated with me and perhaps helped me to understand – but not accept – where my mother was coming from a little more. So thank you for that, Hannah.

  4. SaraPi
    SaraPi June 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm |

    Thank you, Hannah. Just thank you. I continue to be hurt and angered by the people who insist on defending Serena’s comments either by blaming the journalist, by agreeing with her vile victim blaming, etc. Thank you for not joining them.

  5. beth
    beth June 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm |

    I agree with your well written article very strongly. Rape is rape and it is always an act of violence and evil and should be punished with jail time .
    However, I disagree with your dismissal of the role of alcohol in many of these cases. Binge drinking in teens is a serious problem with horrible consequences. As a mother of two , who by some miracle made it through the teen years on to adulthood , I can say this behavior terrifies me as much as illicit drug use . And the more I see it and hear about it – the scarier it gets.
    I don’t mean a random six pack of beer or a cocktail . I mean pouring beer down throats with a funnel ( beer bong ) , a 30 pack of beer just as a “pregame ” ,handles of vodka / jagermeister / bourbon / tequila in quantities of 20 cocktails / night .All mixed with stimulants like Red Bull and 4 Loco just as a few examples. Nothing good can come of this . This is not drinking to join the party – having a good time. This is dangerous , life threatening activity . And it occurs on a weekly – sometimes nightly basis in high schools and universities around this country.
    I know this was not the thrust of your article . And I am sorry for digressing here . But in her misguided remarks about rape , Serena did bring up the lack of parental supervision of the young people involved and the excessive use of alcohol , and on that point that she made – I believe she was spot on .
    I don’t know what we can do about it – prohibition certainly doesn’t work. I wish I knew .
    Don’t get me wrong – alcohol is not responsible for this crime . But , it didn’t help anything here either .

    1. Sara
      Sara June 19, 2013 at 8:42 pm |

      If the rapists’ parents had been supervising THEM, it wouldn’t have mattered if the girl had gotten drunk. If the girl hadn’t gotten drunk… Who’s to say that the rapists wouldn’t have taken advantage of some other girl?

  6. tenisla
    tenisla June 19, 2013 at 6:52 pm |

    A far more balanced perspective is written in Jon Wertheim’s Mailbag:


    1. Sara
      Sara June 19, 2013 at 8:42 pm |

      A perspective written by a man. Shocking!

  7. tenisla
    tenisla June 19, 2013 at 7:00 pm |

    And this from UniteWomen.org’s Open Letter


    I don’t see anyone nitpicking an apology. But reading Hannah’s blog it’s no surprise she’s so hard on Williams, even when she’s apologized for here actions. Anything to get hits I suppose.

    1. Sara
      Sara June 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm |

      If she’s sincere, then why is it “supposedly said?”

    2. Ana
      Ana June 20, 2013 at 1:22 am |

      Right. Nothing “gets hits” like a substantive piece on the manifestations of rape culture…

  8. Laura
    Laura June 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm |

    Fantastic article. Thankyou for writing this.

  9. tenisla
    tenisla June 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm |

    Hasn’t @RafaelNadal copyrighted the use of the digit 8? Or was that killing 8ncient African leaders? RT @linzsports @naughtyT H8ER!!!!!!!!!

    Linzsports, I expect more of you…are the people defending Williams a monolith of her fans, and why the obsession, there’s a lot of terrible things going on in the world for you to get on your soapbox for this issue is incredible. You said you’re having a bad day, read this….


    Maybe Serena should comment on this so that it becomes an issue worth retweeting.

  10. Wow, Serena | Russian Roulette is Not the Same Without a Gun

    […] must admit, my feelings for you are mixed anyway.  But this one, I think, is a severe disappointment to most of us who follow tennis and have a basic sense of […]

  11. Jennifer
    Jennifer June 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm |

    I’m sad to see this much effort going into chastising Ms. Williams for an uninformed remark about what was on the tv news. Especially sad to see it in the Changeover (not to mention some of the connect twitter accounts). I don’t believe Serena has as much time to pour over the Internet and blogs like some of us do and be fully informed on the story.

    And most disturbingly, I don’t see how including this in that massive article was suppose to further the piece … Food, French, nail polish…then this? Surely she had other comments on the evening news, no?

    1. Sara
      Sara June 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm |

      So it’s okay to blame a rape victim if you didn’t have time to read the story? Great logic.

  12. tjc05
    tjc05 June 19, 2013 at 8:58 pm |

    Is it possible that being disappointed with her comments, and a fan of her as tennis player are not mutually exclusive? After the initially reading I thought they were insensitive, ignorant, and very misguided; however, I do not think they are an indictment on her as a person.

    When it comes to all things Serena, conversations tend to devolve-there are extremely vocal pro and con Serena fans/bloggers/journalists etc that, I feel, affect the integrity of the discussion of the issues at hand, which instead seem to turn into one red heiring argument after another.

    What I find especially sad, is that after a few months of being out of the daily news cycle the victim is once again being pushed into the forefront of many news outlets based on this quote, and subsequent “discussion.” That can’t be easy for her and family to have to re-live, which I feel is getting lost in all of this. I do hope that Serena reached out to family to offer her condolences, and hopefully everyone can all learn a few things as well.

  13. MattV
    MattV June 19, 2013 at 9:44 pm |

    I’m a little surprised at the amount of debate this has stirred – I’d have thought this is pretty clear cut: What Serena said was very wrong and anyone who is a fan of Serena can, and should, be disappointed in her view on the matter.

    While a tennis blog is maybe not the best place discussing rape, and the case itself, it makes sense considering the overall context – the best female tennis player (of all time? In a long time?) making a shocking statement on the matter.

    I hope this was brief enough – I truly don’t see why all the hubub about Hannah Wilks’ (very astute and correct) text?

  14. Fernando
    Fernando June 19, 2013 at 10:07 pm |

    Fernando says Serena’s comments were beyond insensitive. They were stupid and belonged in the dustbin ages ago. Hard to believe anyone would make suchcomments in 2013 let alone a woman. Maybe Serena should run for the US senate as a republican- she would fit right in.

    Kudos to Wilks for telling it like it and not giving Serena a pass which she surely does not deserve.

    I am Fernando @vivafernando

  15. Kat_YYZ
    Kat_YYZ June 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm |

    Serena’s comments are simply horrible. I don’t understand how people are defending her.

    I have never liked her much as a person; she’s obviously an amazing tennis player, but I could never warm up to her. So many of her fans think this is some kind of “fodder” to those who dislike her. Let me tell you, I can do without this fodder. Rather than rubbing my hands together gleefully at having something to bash her for, I feel angry and so very sad. You kind of “expect” it from men (this, too, is sad, btw). But from a woman… to know that if something happened to me, these kind of women would be on the jury. No wonder so many victims don’t want to go to trial. The whole thing is incredibly depressing.

  16. AmyLu
    AmyLu June 19, 2013 at 11:42 pm |

    Hannah, thank you so much for this post. You write about a topic that needs to be discussed much more fully and critically within society; thank you for starting that conversation for all of us.

  17. May
    May June 20, 2013 at 1:19 am |

    Well, I am probably way more conservative than Serena could ever be. I think parents should always supervise their children. I believe underage drinking should have serious consequences (cancelling the teenager’s allowance for the next year will probably be the option I would go for, although confiscating their cell phone/laptop seem also reasonable for me) I was brought up with strict behavior rules and I am planning to bring up my son – and any future children – the same way. Drinking till you pass out ? Totally unacceptable. Sixteen year olds should be smarter than six year olds.

    That said, I can’t imagine what made Serena say what she said. Parents are responsible? yes. Underage drinking is wrong-wrong-wrong? yes. But…calling rape ‘stupid’? These two boys did something criminal. Who care about their careers? Their parents made a poor job of bringing them up, and if their career hadn’t been hurt by their crime, they would have still gone on to grow up as violent people. Sooner or later that would have caught up with them. People who can’t control themselves aren’t exactly known as successful and well-adjusted.

    There are things that can make women safer, although there are no 100% guarantees. But when we talk about such horrific, public rape, such an act where apparently nobody present had the conscience and courage to even feel ashamed – then the discussion shouldn’t be about safety. It should be about the sick culture we have, and who bears the responsibility for that.

  18. Josh
    Josh June 20, 2013 at 1:48 am |

    I agree with the opinion that this has become overblown. I don’t know why there has been so much commotion over a single person’s comments. They were misguided, yes, but saying over and over again that they were terrible and stupid and so on doesn’t really help. It’s clearly obvious; there’s no need to reiterate and beat the dead horse. It’s good to reach out in love and correct someone, but doing so through a web forum doesn’t quite do the trick.

    I’ve learned a bit more about public perception about rape and I am thankful for it. Can we put this to rest now?

  19. Rafaisthebest
    Rafaisthebest June 20, 2013 at 1:57 am |


    I am bemused, tbh. Why am I reading this story on a tennis blog? This is a tennis blog, right? Guess what, I am blaming the victim, no, this victim, me. For allowing myself to think an American blog site can think beyond America. America is “the world”, right? Everybody should know and read about what is going on in “the world”, especially on tennis blog sites.

    Well, excuse me while I go search for international tennis blog sites, reporting on international, not world, tennis news. Sorry for intruding on your self-absorption.

  20. Meenu
    Meenu June 20, 2013 at 6:17 am |

    Thank You for this extremely well-written article. I was so disappointed and saddened yesterday because of Serena’s remark as she has been a sportsperson I have admired so much.I couldn’t believe she shared some of these sexist assumptions when she has always been one who has fought against sexism in tennis.

    In the case of our belief systems, there are some assumptions we change over time once we find them at odds with reality and others which have not been similarly examined. This one seems to be an issue where Serena has held on to the oldest and seems like the more popular assumptions about rape. I am truly saddened by whatever she said. How could she who has come up the hard way in her life hold on to such weird assumptions like the girl’s virginity matters or that her drinking is sufficient excuse for her to get her raped?

    I agree with all that Hannah said. What Serena has done there is blame the victim in the worst possible way and excuse what the rapists actually did. And to think they got away with such light sentences! It is truly shocking and I think Hannah’s insights into the issue are spot on.

    It is hard for people to change their mindset and I don’t know if Serena is the kind to introspect on her beliefs. But if there had not been this interview, we would have never really known she held such beliefs. Just hoping that all the criticism makes her re-think some of her basic assumptions about rape. But seems to me there is a lot of thinking to be done about notions of femininity and masculinity themselves.

    I cannot understand why people get upset over such an article in a tennis blog. Isn’t tennis played by human beings and when we admire a tennis player, isn’t it part for the person s/he is as well? Why is this issue dubbed as an “American” issue? I am an Indian and this one resonates with me for rape happens everywhere and the attitudes displayed towards the victim smack of sexism in almost all parts of the world.

  21. tenisla
    tenisla June 20, 2013 at 8:02 am |

    The Family of the Steubenville Rape victim released the following statement..

    Steubenville rape victim’s family says they are ‘proud’ of Serena Williams’ apology after she was quoted defending the 16-year-old’s assailants

    ‘We just read Serena’s updated comments and we’re proud of her for correcting and clarifying her prior statements,’ the family said, according to a statement issued on their behalf by attorney Bob Fitzsimmons. ‘We are sure Serena has and will continue to use her God-given talents to advance women’s equality and send the message that rape is never acceptable under any circumstance.

    ‘We are fans of Serena and will continue rooting for many more championships but more importantly watching her advance the cause of rape victims who are never to blame.’


    I see no criticism amounting to “encouraging rape culture” there either. It’s another buzz word like “99 percent”, a way for self-righteous entitled liberalism to manifest itself. We get you’re bored and need something to feel angry about/tied to. And because of that you can’t seem to move forward.

  22. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne June 20, 2013 at 10:46 am |

    One last thought on this. In the story, the interviewer mentions that the interview took place two days before the start of the Sony Open. The Sony tournament in Miami began on March 19, so that would make the date of the interview March 17.

    If you read the Wikipedia article on the Steubenville rape case under “Public Reaction” you will see that on March 17,

    “During the course of the delinquent verdict on March 17, 2013, CNN’s Poppy Harlow stated that it was “Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart…when that sentence came down, [Ma’lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney…He said to him, ‘My life is over. No one is going to want me now.'” Candy Crowley and Paul Callan were also criticized for their lack of focus on the victim and their sympathy for the rapists.[9][10][11][12][13]

    Most of those footnotes refer to articles critical of CNN for being too sympathetic with the perpetrators. It seems very likely that it was that apparently slanted coverage (or something similar) to which Serena was responding during the interview.

    CNN is certainly a reputable news organization, but it appears that they got the emphasis all wrong in this case.

    Shouldn’t the interviewer be taking CNN to task for their take on the story, rather than his host, who may have been simply responding to a pro-defendant recounting of the trial’s conclusion?

  23. tenisla
    tenisla June 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  24. Anna
    Anna June 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm |

    “Maybe she wasn’t a virgin?”

    You don’t know where to begin with that comment… I’ll help:

    What happened in Steubenville was a case of digital rape, not penile rape–the girl got fingered.

    (Which in itself is a pretty central point, because outside of Ohio digital penetration is classified in the lesser category of sexual assault, not as rape. It’s also the reason the boys got off relatively mildly; they didn’t gang-bang her–they fingered her. The judicial apparatus (Ohio and elsewhere) makes a distinction between those two crimes; finger rape is bad, penile rape is worse).

    Also, “it could have been much worse” is a mental coping mechanism as old as humanity. It’s how people deal with bad situations, a survival instinct if you will: It was a scary car crash… but at least we survived. Their house burnt down… but at least they had insurance. She was raped… but at least the guys only used their fingers. We say these things to ourselves as a mental comfort; we say these things to others out of care and concern hoping it’ll make them feel a little bit better… it was bad, but it could have been worse.

    Anyway, onto the sense in the “maybe she wasn’t a virgin?” comment. Recall that it was digital rape:

    If the girl had been a virgin, and if it had been penile rape–then she would have lost her virginity that way. Very, very sad.

    If the girl had been a virgin, and it was digital rape (as it was)–then her virginity would be intact (in most physical/religious interpretations, at least).

    If the girl was not a virgin… well, then digital vs. penile makes no difference.

    If you’re thinking along those lines, and virginity is a thing that matters to you, does it not make sense to think or say, “thank Deity it was only finger rape… at least she didn’t have to loose her virginity this way”, cf. coping mechanism above?

    I know it’s not exactly what came out, but the comment “maybe she wasn’t a virgin” could very well be a thinking-out-loud snapshot of the thought process I outlined above. In fact, it makes so much sense that I can’t imagine a more plausible scenario. Remember, she was having her nails done, TV on in the background… she was not reading from a carefully prepared, PR-machined script; she was just caught in the act reacting to a very pro-defendant report on a reputable news network.

    Now, I’m not judging you, but… did you even pause for a second before you concluded that this somewhat strange, ambiguous comment was positively about passing judgment on the girl, rather than something said out of concern and in relief, cf. “it could have been much worse”? I think you should ask yourself why you didn’t search for or consider a positive interpretation of this comment before jumping to conclusions.

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