I have always loved Serena Williams. Even though my dreams of being a professional tennis player faded in middle school, her unapologetic attitude and fierce playing style still inspire me.
When I watched her unfortunate loss at the Sept. 8 U.S. Open, I couldn’t help but share her anger and frustration at the obvious racist and sexist injustices she faced.
Williams lost in the U.S. Open finals to Japanese-Haitian player Naomi Osaka, 20, who became the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.
In the game’s second set, the umpire Carlos Ramos accused Williams of cheating after he saw her coach making hand signals. Although coach Patrick Mouratoglou admitted to coaching from the audience, according to Sporting News, he says Williams didn’t see him. The same umpire oversaw the men’s tennis final, and never gave a warning to Rafael Nadal’s coach, who he said coached every point.
Mouratoglou was coaching just like “100 percent of the coaches in 100 percent of matches,” he said. “Osaka’s coach was coaching every point, too.”
Williams was outraged – and rightly so – at Ramos’ accusation. She tearfully argued her case mid-match.
“I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose,” she told Ramos during the match. “I have a daughter and I stand for what is right.”
Later in the match, Williams smashed her racket after losing a game, causing Ramos to dock her a point instead of giving her the standard warning. Williams, and much of the stadium, was outraged.
After losing another set and double-faulting on her serve multiple times, Serena had all the reason in the world to be angry.
Male tennis players are often commended for their passion and emotion on the court, while women like Williams are shamed for the same behavior. Just last month, tennis player Novak Djokovic smashed his racket in half after losing the Rogers Cup, but he didn’t receive a code violation.
Tennis legend John McEnroe famously threw tantrums on court and was nicknamed the “tennis bad boy,” a playful nickname that shows how differently male players are treated.
At the U.S. Open this year, many male players, including Djokovic, took their shirts off courtside because of the near 100-degree heat. When French player Alize Cornet changed into a fresh shirt on court, however, she received a code violation for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Women like Cornet and Williams have always had to fight for equal treatment. Williams and her sister Venus, also a professional tennis player, grew up in Compton, California. They faced mostly a white audience and were penalized for incidents like beads coming off of their cornrows during a match.
Not only has Williams faced unimaginable odds when it comes to race and socioeconomic status, but she has had to contend with sexist comments and standards throughout her career. Even Williams’ fellow female players like Caroline Wozniacki have mocked William’s curvy figure, and many men – both in and out of the sports world – have mocked her physique.
This decade alone, Williams has secured 12 Grand Slam titles, while no other woman in the sport has won more than two. She is one of the most renowned athletes in the world, but she is still regularly disrespected.
Even though some of Williams’ fights have been won – she advocated for gender equality in prize money, along with many women who came before her – women in sports still need to be treated the same as their male counterparts.
Billie Jean King, a tennis player and pioneer in women’s rights said it best when she tweeted her reaction to the $17,000 fine Williams received from the U.S. Tennis Association for her “outburst” during the U.S. Open.
(2/2) 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, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 9, 2018
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,” she tweeted.
The events at the U.S. Open are a wake-up call – it’s time to end these double standards that pervade women’s sports. We are told to “man up” and not to “throw like a girl”, but when we exhibit traditionally male attributes like anger and intensity on the court, we are penalized for being unsportsmanlike.