Sixteen-year-old tennis prodigy Taylor Townsend is the world's No. 1 junior girls player, with several titles — including Australian Open junior singles champion and Wimbledon junior doubles champion — already under her belt. What she isn't is thin. Despite her mastery of the court, Townsend has been benched from further tournament appearances by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), with which she is part of a four-year development program, until she improves her "overall fitness." Though the USTA cites Taylor's health as their top concern, critics have called the decision discriminatory, and cited the success of curvier players like Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport as proof that women of all body types can compete on an international level. Is the USTA being discriminatory, or is it simply trying to protect the health of one of its rising young stars?
The USTA's decision is sexist and racist: It should be noted that Townsend is black, says Cliff Potter at Bleacher Report. The USTA's refusal to finance her tournament appearances signals, sadly, that it operates "in a world that is not yet through with racial and sexual insensitivity." The decision is a reminder of a relatively recent time when professional tennis was played in private clubs and "treated as if it were an all-white sport." And the USTA looks even more ludicrous after Serena Williams — whose body type "is totally dissimilar to most bodies on tour, men and women" — won the U.S. Open on Sunday. "If your physique looks like Serena Williams, perhaps the best women's player in history, what more needs be said?"
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The USTA has Townsend's best interest at heart: Even Townsend herself "admits she needs to shape up a bit," says Meredith Carroll at Babble. By withdrawing from major tournaments now, Townsend has time to work with her coaches on her "conditioning" and "overall fitness level." And the decision also proves the integrity of the USTA, proving that it's "looking out for more than just [Townsend's] trophies." By benching Townsend to focus on "her long-term development as a player," the USTA is demonstrating its commitment to the "health of their sport, and, even more importantly, their players."
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Weight was never the issue — until the media made it the issue: This "rather insular episode" in American junior tennis garnered so much media attention "because fitness was quickly conflated with weight and all the baggage of body image issues and gender politics," says Kamakshi Tandon at ESPN.com. USTA player development head Patrick McEnroe made it clear that the decision had nothing to do with weight or body type, and Townsend's initial dismay "seems to have been less about her figure and more about being told she wasn't up to scratch." The national attention has probably become the most depressing aspect of the affair for her. "Who knows how she was affected by media coverage, which told her she had been told she was 'too fat'?"
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