Girl's Tennis Champ Taylor Townsend Battles USTA Over Weight

4 years ago

Being a teen girl is hard enough. But when you're the No. 1 ranked junior women's tennis player in the world and the U.S. Tennis Association reportedly refuses funding based on your weight, it's got to sting especially hard.

Sixteen-year-old Taylor Townsend won the 2012 junior Australian Open singles tournament earlier this year but was advised not to come to  the U.S. Open over concerns about her weight according to Friday's Wall Street Journal.  Like many black, female athletes, Townsend is not stick-thin. At 5’6” and 170 pounds, she looks more like Serena than Sharapova.

So, should she be forced by the brass at the USTA to lose weight?

Taylor Townsend Photo by robbiesaurus via Flickr

Townsend, a Chicago native who trains in Florida, was devastated when her coaches told her she couldn’t compete in the 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.”

U.S. Open champion Serena Williams, who has been mercilessly ridiculed about her body,  says she's alarmed by the USTA's decision to hold a top junior player out of competition because of her weight.

"If that happened, that's obviously a tragedy, because everyone deserves to play," Williams said Monday, a day after winning the U.S. Open.

"She's so sweet and she works so hard," she added. "For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, and African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary. ... Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour."

After the report, the Wall Street Journal spoke with Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova, two former No. 1 players and Grand Slam champions who struggled with their weight as teenagers and as pros. Davenport and Navratilova were sharply critical of the USTA’s decision.

“You cannot punish someone for their body type,” Davenport said.

“I’m livid about it. Livid,” Navratilova said. She added: “It speaks of horrible ignorance.”

With her family paying her expenses, Townsend ended up playing at the Open, reaching the quarterfinals in singles and winning her third junior Grand Slam doubles title of the year with teammate Gabrielle Andrews.

"Pretty much all the other federations, if they had a No. 1 junior in the world, they would kind of break their backs to bring them to whatever they needed to go to," Townsend commented to USA Today.

Patrick McEnroe, manager of the USTA player development program, was quoted in the WSJ report, saying that the "concern is her long-term health" and the goal is to have her "competing for major titles when it's time." 

McEnroe later said the USTA’s refusal to fund Townsend’s berth in the U.S. Open had “nothing to do with weight” and they have decided to reimburse Townsend’s mother, calling the entire situation a “miscommunication.” Sounds a bit disingenous but perhaps it will force them to revisit their position.

Former World No. 1 Davenport added that young players (and I'll add teen girls in general) need love and support and good role models. Making them feel bad about themselves and contributing to a horrible self-image is not the way to effect change. Get them excited to play, she says, not by tearing them down but by building them up.

Teens, whether or not they are athletes, shouldn't be pressured to look a certain way and hopefully the outpouring of support for Townsend sends that message.



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