Serena Williams: Was she treated unfairly?
When male athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and John McEnroe screamed at referees, taunted opponents, and showed extreme emotion while competing, said Kurt Bardella in USA Today, they were celebrated for their warrior’s heart and “intensity.” When Serena Williams lost her cool at the 2018 U.S. Open tennis final last weekend, she was repeatedly penalized by umpire Carlos Ramos in an act of “blatant sexism.” During Williams’ defeat by Japan’s Naomi Osaka, 20, umpire Carlos Ramos cited Williams for allegedly receiving hand signals from her coach in the stands. When Williams later smashed her racket after losing a game, Ramos docked her a point and Williams “understandably lost it.” She called Ramos “a thief” and asked him to apologize for his earlier accusation of cheating. Ramos “wasn’t going to let a woman talk to him that way,” said Sally Jenkins in The Washington Post. Rather than de-escalate the situation, he penalized Williams a whole game, making the score 5-3 and effectively handing the title to Osaka. What a pity that a new star’s first grand-slam title, and one of “Williams’ last bids for all-time greatness,” were both ruined because a man in authority “couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.”
Ramos did his job and did it well, said Bre Payton in TheFederalist.com. After the match, Williams’ coach admitted sending signals from the stands. As for Williams smashing her racket, that’s an automatic penalty in tennis, and so is questioning the officials’ honesty. “Serena Williams isn’t a victim of anything except being Serena Williams,” said Jonathan Last in WeeklyStandard.com. Her career lowlights include telling a lineswoman that she would “take this f---ing ball and shove it down your f---ing throat” and threatening a female umpire by saying, “If you ever see me walking down the hall, walk the other way.” Worse, these outbursts have often occurred when Williams is losing to a player she’s supposed to beat. That’s the behavior not of a strong woman but of “a bully trying to build an alibi for herself.”
Still, there’s no doubt that tennis has a double standard, said Alex Abad-Santos in Vox.com. In this very same Open, male player John Isner had a total tantrum after losing a game, destroyed his racket, and looked over at his coach. “He was only assessed a verbal warning.” The double standard extends beyond sport, said Rebecca Traister in NYMag.com. Across our society, women’s rage “is automatically understood as a threat” to male authority, “a form of defiance that must be quashed”—especially if it comes from a woman of color. The “one thing black women are never allowed to be without consequence is livid.”
Perhaps so, said Ben Rothenberg in The New York Times, but it’s just not true that male tennis players routinely get away with bad behavior. That “infamous brat” McEnroe actually was assessed dozens of point and game penalties in his long career, including one full disqualification at the Australia Open. At this year’s U.S. Open, there were 23 code-violation fines levied against men, but only nine against women. Smashing rackets and abusing officials is “behavior that no one should be engaging in on the court,” said Martina Navratilova, also in the Times. We do need to look at issues of gender equality in tennis, but that doesn’t absolve any player of the duty to “honor our sport and to respect our opponents.” That’s what “Serena got wrong.” ■