As tennis star Serena Williams faces a tough loss at the hands of Naomi Osaka in the latest U.S. Open, the headlines have not been about the tennis. Rather, the “sexist” manner in which the umpire “stole” the game from the 23-time Grand Slam champion has taken center court.
This new cause celebre has rallied not just other female greats like Billie Jean King to Williams’ side, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the left-leaning media and a swathe of Twitter dwellers have also jumped on board.
The only question worthy of being asked, but that has so far failed to draw any attention, is: Was Serena right?
During the match, an official, Carlos Ramone, cited three violations for breaking a racket, getting coaching signals, and for calling the umpire a thief; the latter was in response to a penalty point awarded for the aforementioned violent, racket-breaking outburst.
Whilst arguing her case on the court, Williams berated the umpire, Brian Earley, stating that, “Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?” Perhaps not realizing that her opponent, who benefitted from the penalty point, was also a woman.
Williams then doubled-down on her claims of sexism during a press conference, saying:
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things … I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief,’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’”
How many people have called this umpire a thief? Or perhaps she was referring to umpires in general putting up with abusive language from male tennis players? Let me introduce you, Ms. Williams, to exhibit A: John McEnroe.
The Hallmarks of Equality
McEnroe’s temper tantrums were legendary. He broke rackets, insulted umpires, and even intimidated linesmen… but was he punished as harshly as Serena Williams? Yes, he was.
During the 1990 Australian Open, McEnroe received three code violations (just like Williams). The first for unsportsmanlike conduct (just like Williams in receiving coaching), the second for breaking a racket (just like Williams), and the third for insulting the umpire (also like Williams). The only real difference is that McEnroe was disqualified.
So, was this sexist? It’s difficult to see how it could be when the same rules are applied equally to both sexes. That didn’t stop other voices jumping into the fray.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted:
“Several things went very wrong during the US Open women’s finals today. Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.”
Well, unfortunately, these are the rules of the game. Ms. Williams coach should know better as she had received a warning before in another competition for the same thing. Her coach admitted, “I’m honest, I was coaching.” Whether Serena was watching her coach is neither here nor there, coaching was taking place in violation of the rules by which she has agreed to play.
In a later tweet, King added:
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & and there are no repercussions. Thank you (Serena Williams) for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”
Again, I redirect you to exhibit A. McEnroe received numerous fines, code violations, and even bans for his behavior on (and off) the court. There are repercussions for actions, regardless of a players sex.
A Sore Loser
Perhaps this is more about Williams herself. She is a hugely accomplished player who has enjoyed success upon success, but perhaps being so successful has blinded her to the fact that other players are competent, too.
But what of Naomi Osaka? It is unfair that her first major victory should be tainted by such snowflakish and entitled behavior. Osaka is just 20 years old, 16 years younger than Williams; on the court, this makes a difference. She had already won 6-2, 6-4 before Williams was given her third violation; this was not a match the newcomer was going to lose.
For Williams to suggest that she had the match stolen from her is far more than sour grapes, it is asking us to believe that she would have pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history against someone who was clearly outplaying her.
After doing so much for the sport of women’s tennis, is this the legacy Serena Williams wants to leave behind? It may seem that in today’s politically charged climate, an accusation of sexism, racism, or any other “ism” is an adequate response to our own failings, but it’s not. This is something we forget at our own, and the future’s cost.