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Serena Williams apologizes for comments about Steubenville rape case

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Serena Williams

Serena Williams apologized for her “insensitive and hurtful” comments. (Icon SMI)

Serena Williams apologized Wednesday for her controversial comments to Rolling Stone about a highly publicized rape case in Steubenville, Ohio.

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me,” Williams said in a statement released on her website. “I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved — that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.

“I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields — anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”

In March, two Steubenville High School football players were convicted of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl. One defendant was sentenced to at least one year in juvenile detention and the other received at least two years. In a profile in the July 4 issue of Rolling Stone, Williams questioned the victim’s judgment in allowing herself to be put in such a dangerous situation. From Stephen Rodrick’s story, which came from shadowing Williams for a day in Florida three months ago:

We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV – two high school football players raped a drunk 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. “Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

The 16-time Grand Slam champion also talks to the magazine about her career (“When I stop playing, it’s not going to be because I’m sick of playing. It’s going to be because I’m sick of practicing”) and Sloane Stephens (“I don’t know where all that mentor stuff came from. I am definitely not that girl’s mentor”) and takes what the author presumes is a veiled shot at Maria Sharapova (“There are people who live, breathe and dress tennis. I mean seriously, give it a rest.”). But Williams’ Steubenville comments have generated the most attention, sparking a social-media firestorm after Deadspin first published excerpts of the story Tuesday.

Williams is the defending champion at Wimbledon, which begins Monday.

  • Published On Jun 19, 2013
  • 12 comments
    Lynnie
    Lynnie

    Paula Deen apologized for using the "n" word and still lost her job.  Serena Williams says such an ignorant thing about rape being okay because the girl was drunk and this is okay??????  I don't think so.   Of course, people shouldn't be drunk, but their friends should also help protect them when they've had too much to drink and men/boys should be taught it is NEVER okay to rape someone and never okay to stand by and not prevent such a thing.  Women are humans and have value.  The rapists should go to prison; it's rape.  People who watched and did nothing should be prosecuted as accessories to the crime.  There is no excuse ever for rape.   I don't care how smart or promising their futures were.  Rape cannot be okay for one person and not another.  Do women mean so little in our society?  What about her future?

    PatrickFinley
    PatrickFinley

    In the story, the interviewer mentions that the interview took place two days before the start of the Sony Open.  The Sony tournament in Miami began on March 19, so that would make the date of the interview March 17.

    If you read the Wikipedia article on the Steubenville rape case under "Public Reaction" you will see that on March 17, 

    "During the course of the delinquent verdict on March 17, 2013, CNN's Poppy Harlow stated that it was "Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart...when that sentence came down, [Ma'lik] collapsed in the arms of his attorney...He said to him, 'My life is over. No one is going to want me now.'" Candy Crowley and Paul Callan were also criticized for their lack of focus on the victim and their sympathy for the rapists.[9][10][11][12][13]

    Most of those footnotes refer to articles critical of CNN for being too sympathetic with the perpetrators.  It seems very likely that it was that apparently slanted coverage (or something similar) to which Serena was responding during the interview. 

    CNN is certainly a reputable news organization, but it appears that they got the emphasis all wrong in this case. 

    Shouldn't the interviewer be taking CNN to task for their take on the story, rather than his host, who may have been simply responding to a pro-defendant recounting of the trial's conclusion?

    Whose failure is the greater here?  CNN's for its pro-defendant tilt coverage?  The interviewer's for not pointing out the tremendous amount of pro-defendant coverage on cable news that day?  After all, he had three months to find information that  I found in less than an hour.    Or Serena's for not second-guessing the coverage and point-of-view of supposedly responsible news coverage by highly paid journalists?

    If you ask me Serena screwed up big time, and she has apologized for it.  But the failure of the professional journalists on her television and in her home, journalists who we the people entrust with the responsibility of even-handed reporting, was even more egregious.

    JimNoonan
    JimNoonan

    She suggested that the punishment for rape should be mitigated if the victim acts stupidly. She deserves every bit of heat she takes over expressing that ignorant thought out loud.

    BillVanIden
    BillVanIden

    Is anyone surprised? Serena Williams may need medication.

    JasonRaphael
    JasonRaphael

    Thank you Serena for clarifying your comments for the Haters. Anyone with a GED could see she was clearly talking about the girl drinking, not the girl getting raped. It's a travesty and one I destest my gender being so known for. But it's a fact of life and we all can do something to make sure that both men AND women are safe from sexual assault. There's no controversy here. And yes, people's words do get taken out of context all the time in the media. It's called Tone. You can say, "You're stupid" and see that in print and someone would get HIGHLY offended. But if they heard you say it in real life, "You're stuipd" and they see the smile on your face or the roll of your eyes...they'd laugh it off with you. It's called TONE people and I'm sure that's what Serena was talking about. It was weird and TERRIBLY out of place for the Rolling Stone reporter to be talking to the greatest female athlete of all time...and then...BAM!...just because it's on tv...talk about rape?! Get real. Thank you Serena for being a Queen, a Champion and a Legend. :)

    Andre34
    Andre34

    We all got our opinions on things.  I guess some this conversation was something that suppose to be outside the magazine in a private conversation. 

    JuliusVernon
    JuliusVernon

    She was right before she back tracked. I am yet to understand what a girl was doing out that drunk and why all of these kids were able to jump around from house to house that drunk. Where are all the parents in this?

    usable.thought
    usable.thought

    Love how for celebrities, it is always the media's fault: "What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful," etc. Okay, if you "supposedly" said it, that implies you didn't really say it; and if you didn't really say it, why are you apologizing? 

    JuliusVernon
    JuliusVernon

    @JasonRaphael He was with her when it came on the news. I don't think that's out of no where. It was a casual interview. It's not like he set her up to fail or even like that was his lead. Have you read the article? He was very praising of her.

    usable.thought
    usable.thought

    @ABossT @usable.thought Yes, it is hard for persons thrust into celebrity - every word they say is magnified. And frankly I didn't think Serena's original comment was anything more than a lot of us would say in private conversation. She was not excusing the rape, just saying that getting drunk at a party with a ton of crazy men is not a safe practice. Yet even so, Serena is a grown woman, not a kid like SS. She could have found a more accurate way to explain why she said what she said. But as you say, being in the athletic business means being in the PR business too, and PR always involves deliberate distortion - more so than even the news business. Gotta have that spin, right?