I cringe every time I see another celebrity post about the supposedly appalling sexist discrimination Serena Williams faced at the U.S. Open. The bottom line is, she reacted petulantly to adversity, and the umpire was well within his rights to not just penalize her a game, but send her packing altogether. Now, it’s a good thing he didn’t. The outrage over the perceived discrimination towards Serena already puts an undeserved asterisk next to Naomi Osaka’s first Grand Slam title. Osaka played better, and deserved to win.
Serena Williams isn’t just the best women’s tennis player in history, she’s the most dominant athlete in history. No iconic athlete has ever run roughshod over their competition the way Serena has, both comprehensively and for anywhere near as long. Not Tiger Woods in his prime. Not Michael Jordan. Not anyone. The only person I can think of that eviscerated their competition with anywhere close to the level of ruthlessness is Mike Tyson, and he only did it for a handful of years. Serena has done it for two decades. Like it or not, when you’re a living and active legend, you are under a microscope. Everything you do becomes headline news. Everything you stand for? That’s headline news too. Any time your veneer cracks and you show a moment of weakness? The vultures circle and descend.
I sure hope nobody takes this article as that; taking an opportunity to be unnecessarily critical of someone who rarely gives the haters a window. It’s the opposite, in fact. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Serena Williams fan than me. I am in constant admiration of her on-court dominance, off-court grace, perpetual class, you name it. Let her actions when members of the crowd, in a stunning display of assholery began to boo Osaka, serve as a shining example of why.
I was also pretty pissed when they decided to ban her from wearing her iconic black outfit at Roland Garros. THAT was sexist, and probably a few other things too.
But penalizing her on-court behavior at the U.S. Open? No. In fact, NOT penalizing her would have been sexist. In tennis, as well as all sports, male athletes are rebuked for their in-competition behavior at a rate that exponentially exceeds women. This is 99% because male athletes are generally churlish adolescents who lack the impulse control to behave in any way other than spoiled rich kids, but still, the point stands. In order for something to be sexist, it has to be applied (or not applied) to someone on the basis of their gender. And in tennis, you can’t smash your racket, and you can’t verbally abuse the chair umpire. Just ask John McEnroe, Goran Ivanisevic, Jeff Tarango, Nick Kyrgios, and any number of men who have done it. Just because women have the emotional maturity to not throw toddler-like tantrums when something on the court doesn’t go their way doesn’t mean they get a pass when they slip up.
Yes, I’m sure you can find a video of Roger Federer losing his trademark composure and dropping a few f-bombs in the direction of a chair umpire, and not getting punished for it. I’ve seen it. Should he have gotten warned? Probably. Had he already smashed his racket and received illegal coaching in the play leading up to his tantrum? Doubtful, so let’s stop it with the non-sequitur comparisons.
Sexism, in sport and and life, is a real problem. It’s shocking and more than a little depressing that in 2018, we still haven’t societally addressed and eliminated it sufficiently. In an evolved society, sexism should be vanishingly rare. But it isn’t, and part of the problem is the peanut gallery’s inclination to floodlight every perceived sleight as sexism, racism, or whatever category of discrimination you want to apply. When we do this, we dull the piercing blade of the spotlight on actual acts of discrimination, turning it into the butterknife that is the floodlight.