What do sexism and women’s tennis have in common? Serena Williams believes she knows the answer.
Williams lost Saturday in the women’s final of the U.S. Open 6-2, 6-4 to Japan’s Naomi Osaka in a match shrouded in controversy. And it’s become even more controversial because Williams is playing the sexism card by claiming some of the penalties she received during the match were biased against her as a woman.
The three controversial calls against Williams happened in the second — and ultimately deciding — set of her finals match.
It all started when chair umpire Carlos Ramos issued a verbal warning to Williams for what the umpire deemed to be her receiving hand signals during the match from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. In-match coaching is not allowed during Grand Slam events.
The warning resulted in an emotional Williams telling Ramos that she “doesn’t cheat to win,” and claiming the only signal she saw was a thumbs-up gesture from family members at the match.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 8, 2018
For what it’s worth, Mouratoglou admitted he did send signals to Williams, but did not believe she ever saw them. Ramos did, however, and gave Williams the warning.
A furious Williams then called out Ramos, still upset over being accused of receiving coaching during the match.
“I don’t cheat and I never have in my life,” Williams told Ramos. “I didn’t get coaching, how can you say that? You owe me an apology. I have a daughter and I set what’s right for her. This is unbelievable.”
Serena to chair umpire: "You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it. Say you're sorry."
— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) September 8, 2018
Williams then called Ramos a “thief” for taking away a point, an outburst that Ramos penalized by docking Williams an entire game. The penalty put Osaka ahead 5-2, meaning she only needed to win one more game to claim the match.
An outraged Williams asked to speak to a match supervisor, claiming the penalties assessed against her would not have happened if she were a male.
“There are a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things because they’re a man, that doesn’t happen to them,” Williams said during her protest.
I’m going to give Williams the benefit of the doubt here. Tennis history tells us that there were some very colorful men who did a lot more than call umpires thieves. Remember John McEnroe’s infamous outburst at Wimbledon in 1981?
And that was a milder moment from McEnroe, who received numerous fines and even some suspensions during his colorful but successful career.
However, Williams did have her diva moments on the court Saturday. And either way you look at it, it’s never pretty when sports stars melt down in public.
"You owe me an apology!"
Serena was fired up with the official in the final set of the US Open final. pic.twitter.com/r6RSbrirnV
— ESPN (@espn) September 8, 2018
Williams answered questions from the press after the match. She was visibly upset and trying to regain composure when she was asked if she would have done anything different.
“You definitely can’t go back in time,” Williams said. “I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief because I thought he took a game from me. But I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things and 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.'”
Williams hopes her complaints draw attention to how male players are treated differently than female players.
“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 that want to be a strong woman and they are going to be allowed do that because of today,” she said. “Maybe it didn’t work out for me but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
On Sunday, Williams was fined a total of $17,500 by the U.S. Tennis Association for her outbursts. She was fined $10,000 for “verbal abuse” of Ramos, $4,000 for having to be warned for coaching, and $3,000 for breaking her racket. The money will be deducted from the $1.85 million she won for finishing second in the tournament.
Williams has taken a genuine interest in women’s issues of late, becoming the spokesperson for Allstate Foundation Purple Purse program that works to fight financial abuse against women, CNN reported in June.
But as much as women would love to have a female as accomplished and successful as Williams speak out on legitimate issues relating to sexism against women, they must be legitimate issues. And taking the high road goes a lot farther in having your message heard over temper tantrums on the tennis court.
Sexism in the work place, domestic abuse and other forms of discrimination are far more serious issues in the minds of women who are suffering under those acts than an allegedly biased tennis umpire. Those public displays don’t help her or womens’ bigger-picture agendas.
Crying wolf for erroneous acts of sexism hurts the women who are genuinely trying to battle abuse. I was kind of hoping Williams would take a true stand for women and avoid the social justice warrior version of feminism.
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