Townsend, the number one junior women’s player in the world, nearly missed a spot in last week’s U.S. Open because U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) told her they weren’t going to finance her appearance in anymore tournaments until she got into better shape.
Like many black, female athletes, Townsend is not stick-thin. At 5’6”, she weighs about 170-pounds. Despite being the top-ranked player on the junior’s circuit and winning the Australian Open earlier this year, the brass at the USTA aimed to pull the teen from the U.S. Open and any other tournaments until she loses weight.
But should she?
Townsend said she was devastated when her USTA coaches told her she couldn’t compete in the U.S. Open.
“It was definitely shocking,” the teen said. “I was actually very upset. I cried. I was actually devastated. I mean, I worked really hard, you know, it’s not by a miracle that I got to number one. I’m not saying that to be conceited or anything, but it’s not just a miracle or it didn’t just fall upon me just because my name’s Taylor.”
After her Australian Open win, the Chicago teen who now lives at the USTA center in Florida, ditched fast food and incorporated running and weight-lifting into her training routine. But the wasn’t enough for Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program. McEnroe explained why the USTA refused to finance Townsend’s slot in the Open.
“Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” he explained the Wall Street Journal. “We have one goal in mind: For her to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it’s time. That’s how we make every decision, based on that.”
But as the Bleacher Report points out, concerns about Townsend’s health didn’t prevent the USTA from allowing her to play in both the singles and the doubles competition in the Australian Open earlier this year, in which Townsend had to pull a double-header and play twice in one day.
So what gives?
According to Townsend’s mother—a former tennis player at Lincoln University—the USTA didn’t give them any specifics as to why her daughter was denied.
“I actually asked them if they would give me some specifics so that I can help facilitate helping her to understand what they were doing and the reasoning behind what they were doing,” Shelia Townsend told ABC News. “I never was able to get it.”
Instead, Townsend’s mother did what any committed parent would do: she paid the entry fees and financed her daughter’s way into the U.S. Open. With mounting pressure and amid the ire of her coaches, Taylor lost in the semi-finals, but brought home the double’s title with her partner, Gabrielle Andrews, making it her third Grand Slam doubles title this year.
While the McEnroe later said the USTA’s refusal to fund Townsend’s birth in the U.S. Open had “nothing to do with weight; it has nothing to do with body type,” they have decided to reimburse Townsend’s mother, calling the entire situation a “miscommunication.”
Hearing of Taylor Townsend’s predicament conjured of thoughts of Serena and Venus Williams.
For years the sisters and their father have alleged that the USTA continuously overlooked racist incidents, and when the sisters first burst on the scene, Serena was seen as fat, out of shape, and too big to be a serious athlete (and the comments on many articles mentioning Townsend suggest the same).
If Taylor Townsend was overweight and unable to compete on the court, then I would agree that she needs to take some time off and focus on her fitness. But the USTA’s insistence that the teen lose weight, despite the fact that she’s the top ranked player in the world and is playing well (and many of the sport’s legends are outraged at her treatment), shows that some don’t quite understand that not all black women can simply fit into the stick-thin, cookie cutter mold of their mostly blonde competitors.