It is only fitting, but also painfully obvious, that Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will be facing each other in the Australian Open Women's final. The two stars have maintained more top-of-the-world status than any other females in their sport in the past ten years; and top-of-the-world status is of the real heavy "nobody to thank but me" variety in non-team sports. Sharapova, Serena, Federer, Tiger, Lance Armstrong, and on and on have the type of juice that Bean Thousand sometimes dreams about.
The other reason why a S.Williams/Sharapova final is so fitting is that no two female athletes have come under more scrutiny, within their sport, for being on top of the world. So much attention was paid to Sharapova's "star" after she won Wimbledon, and with every ad campaign, slinky dress, and public appearance, pundits began making faulty attributions that all of this "fun" was inhibiting her from winning another Grand Slam. That tennis experts even included "Kournikova" in conversations about Sharapova's work ethic is sillier than comparing Yao Ming's work ethic to Yuta Tabuse's because they're both Asian. And Serena, well, the lambasting of her has been all too well-documented. All the time that she takes off, the tournaments she pulls out of at the last minute because of "injuries," the kicking it with Keyshawn, and her stunning ESPY appearances--people feel that she "owes" the sport something, giving her a harder time than Robert Smith or Tiki Barber, and SHE hasn't even retired yet. (Not even to mention the fact how much her being "out of shape" has gotten discussion during this recent tournament).
Bottom line is that because of the looks + skill=superwoman quality that Sharapova and Williams embody, they have been taken DOWN, with the public trying to establish some direct correlation between this very superhumanness and the two women's "failures" or "imperfections." It is fundamentally upsetting for humankind to witness such lofty humans. Superhumanity makes us uncomfortable because it suggests inequality, class differences, injustice. Superhumanity, even moreso than witnessing a pitiable group of "sub"humans goes directly against some idealized notion of perfect egalitarianism. The solution to resolve this discomfort? Dehumanize the superhumans. Bring them to our level. And this very procedure is starkly rearing its head, as we speak, within our beloved Association.
For evidence, look no further than at this, and this, and this. Whether it's telling Melo how to behave, Jerry Sloan imposing a curfew, or Stern banning players from nightclubs, this is all part of the increasing dehumanization of STARS throughout the league. Included should also be the new technical rules, which Forevers Burns touched on earlier this week. While none of these pieces of news are too shocking or out of the ordinary (well, maybe Stern's club ban), they are nonetheless interesting for the distinct manner in which they dehumanize. Psychologist, Nick Haslam, has a compelling theory of dehumanization, which suggests that
dehumanization comes in essentially two forms: denying people uniquely human attributes (e.g. moral sensibility), which posits humans as animal-like, or denying people human nature itself (e.g. agency), positing humans as objects or automata. I suggest that the type of NBA-wide dehumanization going on falls somewhere in the middle, constituting a mass infantilization of ballers.
Stern raised the age limit but more and more is treating players like children. The synthetic leather ball fiasco actually constitutes an underrated example of this. Players were denied a SAY. a CHOICE. Rationality, desire--these core human qualities were not necessarily denied, but rather they were ignored, and that angered the hell out of the players. The players didn't give a fuck about how the ball bounced or how it came off the glass, they just wanted to be included in the decision; treated like the adults that they are. Stern's nightclub ban and Sloan's curfew are far more simple, denying players agency over their own lives and lifestyles, demonstrating a grand distrust in these players' very decision-making competence, their rationality. And the new tech rules, as Forever Burns documented quite well, prevent the expression of emotion. Whining takes on a more literal meaning, and players are punished accordingly, again like children.
If superhumanity discomforts us, please at least allow them be human.