Sunday, November 28

The incessant noise of the trials has dehumanized young sports stars | Sport

Northaomi Osaka gave a press conference on Friday night. She has started doing them again, by the way; I mention this only because after opting out of media duties during this year’s French Open, many people immediately decided that he was putting together his own mental health as a cunning ruse to evade media scrutiny. Still, many red-faced talk show hosts and newspaper columnists were able to lecture a 23-year-old woman about her personal choices, so maybe that was the most important thing.

It was a tough watch. Osaka had just lost under stormy circumstances to Leylah Fernández at the US Open, and when she announced her intention to take a short break from tennis, she reflected with tearful equanimity on a sport that, for some reason, was no longer working for her. “Recently when I win I don’t feel happy, I feel more like a relief,” he said. “And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. “

It may not be normal, but it normalized to an increasingly regrettable degree. The day after Osaka’s defeat, American player Sloane Stephens posted some of the roughly 2,000 messages she received after losing to Angelique Kerber. Among the abundant racist and sexist abuses were rape threats, kidnapping threats, death threats, threats to locate her and break her legs. “This kind of hate is so exhausting and endless,” Stephens wrote on Instagram. “This is not talked about enough, but it sucks.”

Almost every female tennis player on the tour has stories like this. It’s not just them either. The simple fact of existing in the public sphere, albeit fleetingly, is to be co-opted in an incessant noise of instantaneous, reflective, and often performative judgment. Consider the ridiculous treatment of Simone Biles, an athlete who may feel like she has earned a certain benefit of the doubt, when she withdrew from various events at the Tokyo Olympics. She was accused of being a renouncer, of mental weakness, of essentially violating the contract that all performers unknowingly assume when they appear on our screens: show up, entertain us, and then get lost.

It really is a phenomenon that runs through sports, popular culture, which appears where women have the recklessness to occupy a space. For example, pop stars like Lizzo, Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish have begun to creatively articulate deprivations of fame, pushing against a cultural marketplace that essentially demands they show up, entertain us, and then get lost. When Eilish sings on her new album, “The things I once enjoyed just keep me employed now,” it’s not hard to imagine these words emerging, equally plausibly, from the mouths of Osaka or Biles.

In part, he believes this is a function of how we are encouraged to consume entertainment. The packaging of art or sports as content, as a product to be commercialized and sold, has implications that go far beyond the end result. In a sense, he reimagines our relationship with the artist as a consumer transaction, subjects his feelings and whims to the wildest instincts of the general market. Fame and success, accolades and wealth, aspiration and attention, combine to the point where we can no longer significantly distinguish between them.

And so for many, empathizing with the suffering of the public star – the footballer is racially abused, the cricketer caught in the tour bubble, the pop star being embarrassed – makes no more sense than to empathize with Captain Marvel. or insurance. meerkats or the basil plant in your basket. This is not simply a media problem, not even a social media problem. The very building blocks of our culture militate against seeing celebrities as humans, because that is not the role we have assigned them.

Sloane Stephens in action during the US Open.
Sloane Stephens in action during the US Open. Photograph: REX / Shutterstock

Of course, pop stars can turn their pain into great art. The female athlete, meanwhile, is restricted by schedules and opponents, written and unwritten rules. Above all, they are challenging a predominantly and aggressively white male space, rendered non-normative by convention, constantly challenged, threatened, forced to justify themselves. The subtext is this: what are you Really doing here?

So Osaka cannot simply protect her sanity. Something else must be behind: hatred, control, laziness. Biles can’t just be a champion going through tough times. She is a fraud, a diva. In the same way that athletes of color are forced to navigate a grueling minefield of bad faith (Marcus Rashford is in favor of public relations; kneeling is a Trojan horse for Marxism!), The institutional suspicion of female athletes takes many forms, but springs from a basic drive. This person cannot be who they say they are.

This works both ways. It’s interesting to compare today’s fractured, complex, and vulnerable young stars with the immaculate, omnipotent, demigod characters built around their predecessors: their Serena Williams, their Cristiano Ronaldos, their Beyonce. They were ruthless and infallible, untouchable and by extension invincible. Adversity was something to beat. The tragedy was something that had to be overcome. That this was just a hopelessly warped caricature of reality was beside the point. When we started anointing the superhumans, what did we think was going to happen to the inner humans?

This is the horrible din into which today’s young stars are born, and the thousands below them who cannot afford an extended career hiatus or a full-time psychologist. We want them to play. We want them to win. We want them to make us happy. What if they are not happy themselves? Well, they are famous. Of course they are.

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