Sloane Stephens says racism against athletes ‘only got worse’

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 29: Sloane Stephens of the United States in action against Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic during their first round match on day two of Roland Garros on May 29, 2023 in Paris, France (Photo by Robert Prange /Getty Images)

American tennis player Sloane Stephens beat Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in her first round match on day two of the French Open. (Photo by Robert Prange/Getty Images).

Sloane Stephens heads into the second round of the French Open after defeating No.16 Karolína Plíšková in a surprise win on Monday (6-0, 6-4). She spoke bluntly in response to a question about racism after the victory.

“Yeah, obviously that’s been a problem my whole career,” she said. “It never stopped. On the contrary, it only got worse.”

A reporter mentioned software to protect athletes from hate speech on social media. Stephens, 30, says she’s heard of it and hasn’t used it.

“I obviously have a lot of banned keywords on Instagram and all that stuff, but that doesn’t stop someone from just typing an asterisk or typing it in a different way, which most of the time the software doesn’t ‘obviously don’t catch. ,” she said.

From the perspective of the 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up, that was to be expected.

“It’s something I’ve had to deal with,” she said, “and something I’ll continue to deal with, I’m sure. That’s it.”

Although she is confident the problem will persist, she expressed concern about how things have changed.

“I think, as I said, it has only gotten worse, and people have the freedom to say and do what they want behind fake pages, which is obviously very inconvenient” , she said. “I mean, obviously, when there are FBI investigations going on with what people are telling you online, it’s very serious.”

Stephens didn’t say if she was talking about a specific case, but there are plenty of examples to take from tennis alone. Serena Williams has changed the standard of success in sport, in the face of constant criticism and racism.

The problem affects athletes of all sports, with Real Madrid footballer Vinicius Júnior being the most notable and timely case.

Júnior spoke out against racial abuse by a fan on May 21 and he was also the subject of racist chanting at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia. In a statement, he noted the lack of advocacy from La Liga and Spain. La Liga is investigating and has pledged to take “appropriate legal action” if “a hate crime is detected”.

The talks at Roland Garros also went beyond tennis on the opening day, when Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine opted out of shaking hands following her loss to Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday. Kostyuk cited a “disrespect” for Sabalenka’s inability to speak out against the war.

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