Serena Williams & Inequality in Sports

Serena Williams made headlines this weekend at the U.S. Open, and this time it wasn’t for winning the title.  Saturday evening Williams faced off against Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final that ended with some controversy to say the least. 

Williams was penalized one point and one game in the second set, which Williams ended up losing six to four.  The penalties were a result of a second and third code violation. Williams was visibly upset during the match and verbalized her frustrations with chair umpire. Williams was issued a warning because her coach allegedly signaled to her during the match. She was then given a second violation, worth a point, for throwing her racket down and breaking it in frustration. The third and final violation, which really sent Williams over the edge, was for calling the umpire a thief, and she was penalized a full game—eventually leading to her loss.

I am here to defend Serena Williams. I am not saying that she was right for breaking her racket or calling the umpire a thief, but male players consistently do worse without being penalized.  Williams being penalized for breaking a racket is laughable.  Male players do this regularly in major tournaments when they’re frustrated and don’t get penalized.  I’m not here to say that you should allow tennis players to violently slam down their rackets, but if a male player does not get punished for it, why should Williams? 

This is one of tennis’s biggest stages, and she is one of the greatest to ever take the court.  Getting penalized a full game for calling an umpire a thief is just a horrible occurrence.  As an umpire you don’t want to be verbally attacked, but in that moment, on that stage, you have to let it go.  The penalty of a full game was punitive. Once again, it was an instance where male players don’t get penalized for saying that (or far worse things) to an umpire, but she does. Legendary male tennis player John McEnroe made a career out of saying vulgar things to umpires and is celebrated for it.  Williams does it once and is ridiculously criticized and penalized, perhaps because she is a woman.

Williams is arguably the game’s greatest and most dominant (female) player ever.  Men’s tennis often takes a backseat to women’s tennis in this era because of her.  The highest rated U.S. Open match of all time was a matchup of Serena and Venus Williams in the 2015 quarterfinals. 

She is the sport’s best athlete, but because she is a woman she is not allowed to have frustrations on the court?  Or voice her opinion to the ref?  I’m fine if tennis wants to say that those two things are penalties, but if they are, then penalize both men and women for it.  Don’t just penalize Williams, and don’t do it on the game’s biggest stage.  What I watched happen to her was just wrong.  Williams said in the post-match press conference that the umpire was being sexist, and she’s right.  There is no way a man would’ve been penalized a whole game for calling him a thief.  This is an incredible disservice to the best tennis player we’ve ever seen.

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