Serena Williams may have had to pull out of the French Open over a pectoral injury, but that doesn’t mean the tennis champ is out of the news.
Recently, reporter Ben Simmons of Inside Tennis magazine came under fire for an interview with Williams that many found offensive.
During their chat, Simmons referred to the 23-time Grand Slam champion as “baby.” Simmons also said that he has waited 14 years to ask Williams a question that involved Donald Trump and her frequent opponent, Maria Sharapova.
“After the 2004 Wimbledon match with Maria, I had to the opportunity to interview Donald Trump on his L.A. golf course and he said that Maria’s shoulders were very alluring and then he came up with this incredible analysis: That you were intimidated by her supermodel good looks. My question is: Have you ever been intimidated by anyone on a tennis court, and what are your thoughts about the occurrence?”
The question was not only in poor taste — afterall, it’s unlikely a male athlete would receive the same type of questioning —but many thought it played into the racist and sexist notions that Williams’s curvy, powerful frame is masculine.
Of course, Williams kept it professional, telling Simmons, “I honestly don’t have any thoughts about that. I can’t say I have been intimidated by anyone. That’s all. That’s it.”
But the tennis champ’s fans were not pleased, including Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, who advised Simmons to “wait at least another 14 more years before asking another question.”
After the criticism rolled in, Simmons took to Twitter to apologize for his question and talk up his commitment to fighting racism and sexism in the sport.
“I apologize if my awkward ques seemed 2 empower Trump or attack Serena,” he wrote. “I SO admire her/I’ve spent a lifetime fighting racism/sexism/homophobia. Started campaign 2 name US Open Stad 4 Ashe/Lobbied long 2 get Serena 2 return to I. Wells/Called out police violence vs Blake/I’m so sorry.”
Despite Simmons’ apology and his assertion that he’s an ally, many, including This Is Us and Empire actor Ryan Bathe pointed out that his questions were still extremely problematic.
“All of these things can be true and you can still have an enormous blind spot about the intersection of race and gender and how your question was disappointing AT BEST,” she told Simmons via Twitter. “And all of the things you’ve done make your question worse. U should know better.”
Here’s hoping Simmons learns from the criticism and keeps this in mind next time around.