Show Them What Crazy Can Do

A look at the female experience in athletics

By Sam Mathers, Editor-in-Chief

“Show them what crazy can do,” says tennis superstar Serena Williams in Nike’s newest advertisement highlighting the female experience in athletics. Titled “Dream Crazier,” the ad plays on the word “crazy” and how it is used both to describe women when they display emotion in sport and to describe their barrier-breaking dreams.

Rheanna Giesel, who just completed her fifth season playing for Lakehead’s varsity women’s volleyball team, spoke to The Argus about her experience as a woman in university athletics: “The most challenging thing about being a female athlete is warranting the respect we deserve as athletes and as people. Often times, we don’t get the credit for how much time and effort we put into perfecting our craft because we are girls.”

Sourced from Ontario University Athletics Twitter (@OUASport)

She says that “In general, female athletes are definitely treated differently. We are expected to carry ourselves in a different way on and off our playing surface. How we handle and express our emotions when playing is analyzed and interpreted in completely different ways than our male counterparts.”

This is displayed in Nike’s ad, which features clips of female athletes and coaches crying, displaying anger, and even calmly challenging a call as Williams narrates: “if we show emotion, we’re called dramatic…when we stand for something, we’re unhinged…and if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.”

It is fitting that Williams would narrate this advertisement, as just a few months ago her display of emotion on the court at the 2018 U.S. Open final garnered a lot of attention. Umpire Carlos Ramos handed Williams three code violations – first, a warning for receiving coaching (players are prohibited from speaking to or receiving hand signals from their coaches while on the court, however this rule is rarely enforced). Williams told Ramos that she would rather lose than cheat. Next, she received a point penalty for racket abuse.

Williams maintained that she did not receive coaching and felt that breaking her racket should not have cost her a point. She called Ramos a liar and a thief. Ramos then issued his final code violation – a game penalty for abuse of an umpire/official. Williams responded by pointing out that a lot of male tennis players have said much worse without being punished. Visibly distraught, Williams ultimately lost the match.

Many in the tennis community spoke out in support of Williams, including several male players who admitted to saying worse without repercussion. Billie Jean King, who famously beat Bobby Riggs in a 1973 match dubbed the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ said on Twitter:

“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

PC – Jean Catuffe – Getty Images Sport – Getty Images

Not everyone showed their support. Mark Knight drew a racist cartoon of Williams, that not only portrays her as an Angry Black Woman, but also with exaggerated features reminiscent of stereotypical caricatures from the Jim Crow era. The Herald Sun published this cartoon not once, but twice. After receiving backlash, it appeared on the cover with the words: “Welcome to the PC World” and “if the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed.”

From her and sister Venus being called the n-word at a 2001 tournament, to media and opponents suggesting she has an unfair physical advantage, to being drug tested more often than other players, the intersection of gender and race has impacted Williams her entire career.

“Dream Crazier” is a follow up to Nike’s ad, “Dream Crazy,” which was narrated by former NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick, who began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. According to Nike, the campaign will be a “year-long journey to inspire the next generation of athletes.”

This is something that Geisel says is one of the best parts about being a female university athlete: “Knowing that my presence as an athlete at the varsity level has the ability to impact even just one girl, is an incredible feeling. If she sees that I am able to do it, it instills the confidence in herself that she will be able to do it someday too.”

Geisel will graduate this spring with an Honours Bachelor of Arts, with a double major in Philosophy and Psychology and a minor in Gerontology. Her advice to the up and coming athletes? “Enjoy it. You will never get another experience like this.” She continues: “find out what is it that you want from this experience and go after it, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get there…don’t be afraid to speak your mind or stand up for what you think is right or [what you] believe in.”

In other words, dream crazier.