The truth is that while there is no reason for these moments to receive any more attention than they have been given, there’s something at play that is not easy to recognize or as ‘sexy’ to talk about: organizational and/or industrial accountability.
When you look at the two incidents, it’s easy – a bit too easy, perhaps – to say that the backlash on all sides is racially motivated. After all, these are two prominent African-Americans who not only make an impact in their respective arenas, but they have crossed over into other areas (for both, fashion). However, at least in this Scribe’s eyes, that’s the lone significant similarity.
As mentioned in ‘All-American’ in regards to Melanie Oudin, Serena is the biggest star in an individual sport that only gains mainstream attention four times a year. The fact that this happened at the US Open in Queens, New York with ESPN and CBS as broadcasting partners only makes for a longer national conversation, for better or worse. Finally, the story continues to run because tennis has not had success in finding a few good women to consistently battle Serena (and her sister, Venus). Truthfully, if this happened at the Tashkent Open, this would amount to nothing more than a fist-shaking YouTube video of the day.
While non-sports media outlets continue to run with the story, some of the smoldering flames that are still out here are from news about the possibility that Williams would be suspended from next year’s Open. The fines that were imposed on her upset a few people because $10,500 is a pittance, but to be fair, tennis players are more like independent contractors who play for every tourney check than salaried employees who are guaranteed a constant paycheck. Yet, at least when an athlete makes a mistake, there are immediate penalties places upon him/her to go with public ridicule and disappointment within the involved organizations. We may not always agree with how the powers-that-be decide to punish its players, but at least the measures exist.
Now, unless they release an artist or band from a contract (usually because of the classic cop-out of not being ‘promotable’), it’s not very often that you hear about labels dropping the hammer on their most controversial signees. West has a chronicled history of making himself the center of attention for all the wrong reasons, yet no one – not his label, not his handlers, not the companies that stock his music, not the media that plays his songs or videos – have ever done anything to curb or stop him. Just as many would consider the Minnesota Vikings as enablers in the Brett Favre saga, the music industry as a whole is an enabler to the mainstream artists that make more news for their screw-ups than their music.
In the sports world, it’s second nature to demand swift action from teams and leagues when a player commits a wrong, on or off the field. For all of the anger about the money involved with these games, fans and media can at least scream “suspend him!” until they are blue in the face, knowing that for every action, there is a punitive reaction written into the by-laws of these organizations. Even in much maligned sports such as track & field and boxing, individual athletes and trainers answer to their sports’ organizations along with state and national athletic commissions for their transgressions.
In music, however, the lone penalty there is for an artist’s foolishness is not buying the record (or these days not downloading the songs and not watching the videos). While an economic boycott seems to be the most direct penalty any musician can feel from the fans, (s)he does not have to perform in front of the public during a season. In fact, outside of the rap industry, there aren’t too many artists who release new material yearly, let alone remain the public eye consistently until said new material is released or there’s a tour coming up. As much as the public claims to hate West now, if he has a ‘hot song’ out, the music world will bow down to his supposed greatness until there’s someone else to fawn over or he puts out a new track. If anything, he basically has to become a pariah like Chris Brown to find himself without top-selling records.
Will Serena lose some fans after her tirade? Possibly. Did Kanye? Hopefully after years of waffling from previous acts. Yet, as a society, we continue to demand athletes to shut up, play and ‘be role models’ while we allow artists to skate away relatively unfazed because of some idea that we can infringe on the creatives. Seems a bit unfair, doesn’t it?
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