Serena’s Faux Pas Dangerous For Equality in Tennis
Let’s make no mistake about it – sexism is a bona fide issue in tennis. There are dozens of examples that require little research or fact checking to rise to the surface. A 2016 Indian Wells comment from Raymond Moore springs to mind, when he declared that female tennis stars “ride the coattails of the men” and that they should “go down every night” on their “knees and thank god that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”
That’s a proclamation as egregious as it is stupid and there’s little need to qualify such bone-headedness any further. That was sexist and it deserved every piece of malicious scrutiny that it received. There are more recent examples of the same ilk; Alize Cornet sparked public outcry at the US Open two weeks ago when she was handed a code-violation for changing her shirt on court. Again, that’s an obvious double standard. Men frequently parade about half naked during matches to little or no consequence. Case in point:
There’s a catalogue of less outrageous but nonetheless passé remarks and slurs that are as google-accessible as photos of Todd Carney bringing someone or something into disrepute. And then there’s Serena Williams at the US Open Final. The American tennis icon was today fined $24,000 USD for calling renowned umpire Carlos Ramos a liar and a thief, having received code violations for on-court coaching and the smashing of her racquet.
Serena refused to back down in her post-match press conference, calling out Carlos Ramos for sexism. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff,” she said.
“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and wants to be a strong woman.”
A pioneer for women’s rights she has been. Serena is revered by many (myself included) for her political awareness, which is surpassed in significance only by her prolific playing ability.
So with all that said, let’s cut to the chase. Sexism is a problem in tennis, but on that day, for that hour or two of commotion on court, it just wasn’t. Carlos Ramos handed Williams a non-contentious, unambiguous coaching violation that was ratified by her coach post-match when he admitted “I was coaching”.
Her antics from that moment onward were nothing more than the petulant ramblings of an entitled brat that couldn’t reel it in and refused to be dealt her dues with grace and dignity; whose emotional unravelling conveniently coincided with her being handed a thrashing from her opponent. The hysteria that ensued the act of an umpire correctly executing his role in the proceedings was met by boos from the crowd and Williams ensured that the headlines would pay little attention to Naomi Osaka; it was all about Serena.
There is no enduring logic in fighting a bona-fide problem by pin-pointing specific moments if they’re ultimately inapplicable to your argument. Williams has the right argument, but she picked the wrong moment.
None of that alters or in anyway diminishes the initial contention – sexism is still an issue, even if it wasn’t AT issue. The trouble is, the public and the media are unlikely to see it that way. Calling out sexism or racism or any other ism at the wrong time dangerously undermines the real examples of inequality that perforate society. That isn’t totally Williams’ fault, but she’ll have a hard time convincing people of that in our quick to judge/reluctant to forget world.