Venus Williams is in the news today for a “wardrobe malfunction,” and her prominence suits me today because my reflections are about her–or at least comments about her. I once heard Pam Shriver say about Venus Williams that one of the things that she liked about her was that “she forgives herself quickly and moves on.” I wish I could provide you with evidence of Shriver’s remarks but I don’t remember the tournament or the match or Williams’s opponent, but I know what I heard. Shriver made me think about the unending penance I seemed to think I owed for my failings, mistakes, or shortcomings. Until I heard Shriver’s remarks, I thought that long suffering was best; perhaps this was a lesson I learned from being raised in a Catholic family or years of Catholic schooling. Shriver’s comments though made me think that long suffering was something that women are taught to do.
Shriver seemed to recognize Williams’s ability to commit an error and then follow-up with an ace as something out of the ordinary. I don’t think she would have said that had Nadal been playing Federer. I say that because I never hear sports analysts say about a man that he forgave himself quickly and moved on and I watch a lot of football–I mean A LOT. As many times as quarterbacks throw interceptions, receivers fumble passes, and linebackers jump offsides I have never heard Al Michaels say “gotta love that Eli Manning, he may have thrown an interception but he’s not going to let that get him down.” I can’t say that I’ve even heard that said of individual collegiate men athletes. Certainly there is an analysis of how they handle adversity but the presumption is that they handle it by fighting through it. Penance doesn’t even seem to be an option for sportsmen. (Though of course this isn’t true of the fans–men or women. I’m a Cleveland Browns fan so I know all about penance! The best stories of the price we have paid is chronicled in Terry Pluto’s wonderful book Things I’ve Learned from Watching the Browns. The poignant video of fans reading some of their stories that Pluto chronicles in the book almost makes me want to weep…but I digress.)
If the lessons that men and women learn play out like my gendered reading of Shriver’s remarks about Venus Williams, then they are instructive: Teach your girls to forgive themselves quickly and move on.