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Amid Catsuit Attention, Serena Williams Switches To A Tutu


Serena Williams heads into the second round of the U.S. Open tonight. On Monday, though, she made a statement on the court, demolishing her first opponent while wearing a black tutu. Now, normally, we don't spend a whole lot of time ruminating about what athletes wear. But Williams' tutu was more than just a style decision. It was a rebuke to the president of the French Tennis Federation. Weeks ago, Bernard Giudicelli criticized Williams for wearing a skin-tight black outfit that looked pretty much like a catsuit. He said the outfit crossed a line, and he wants to impose a new dress code on players. That stirred up a whole controversy, so we invited sports writer Christine Brennan into our studios. I asked her what the French tennis official found so offensive about Serena's French Open attire.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, nothing should have been offensive to him. I mean, not only was that a suit that was necessary for Serena, as she said, because of the threat of blood clots - so medically, she needed to wear it - but even more important, it was the message that she was sending. As a new mom, talking about the struggles, it's not always easy. There are difficult days. You miss your child's first steps, as she did. And what the French Open did is basically just threw cold water on that whole thing, which is about as ridiculous a fight as you can pick, and said, we don't want to see that kind of suit anymore. We want more respect for the game.

MARTIN: But what was the argument against it? What has been the standard, and how was she veering away from it?

BRENNAN: Well, if this had been Wimbledon, I think many of us could have understood because Wimbledon demands all white. And everyone does adhere to that. French Open has nothing like that. Obviously, the catsuit was out there. And that's the whole point, and that's why everyone was talking about it. You could also make the case - if you want to grow the game of tennis, you probably want to reach people who aren't already watching tennis. And Serena, with that catsuit - and being the greatest tennis player ever - you're going to only bring new people to watch the game and the sport.

MARTIN: So then fast-forward. The U.S. Open starts this week. Serena took to the court wearing what I think you could describe as the opposite of a catsuit in many ways. She wore this amazing tutu. Right?

BRENNAN: Right. And she did this after basically letting the French Open off the hook and saying - hey, you know, that's their point of view. I really like them. It's OK. So she defused any potential continuing argument.

MARTIN: Is there something about this conversation - I mean, we're talking about what she's wearing, which could seem frivolous. But is it illustrative of a long-overdue debate in tennis about what women wear? And why does it even matter? I mean, why are women required to wear these skirt-like things anyway?

BRENNAN: Well - and Billie Jean King said this on social media - stop telling women what to wear, what to do. Stop trying to control women's bodies. It can sound kind of funny. We're talking about a catsuit and tutus. But there is this much bigger issue out there. I think if you link it with #MeToo and #TimesUp, I think we're seeing something here. And who better than Serena Williams, this incredibly strong, muscle-bound athlete? And you're seeing her lead this charge in this conversation. And who does she have as her lieutenant? (Laughter) Billie Jean King.

MARTIN: Is she headed to a win at the U.S. Open?

BRENNAN: You know, she played great at Wimbledon and got to the final and just kind of ran out of steam there. It would be the sports story of the year if Serena Williams were to win the U.S. Open.

MARTIN: Sports writer and columnist Christine Brennan.

Christine, thanks so much.

BRENNAN: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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