I do not follow tennis, but it’s pretty obvious even to me that the sport and its coverage has been testing Serena Williams with overtly sexist bullshit. When the French Tennis Federation recently said her medically-necessary full-body catsuit, which she said made her feel like a warrior, “went too far,” it smacked of body-shaming. Again today, when a referee penalized her for arguing over a call and again for throwing her racket in frustration, costing her critical points in the Grand Slam singles title, headlines described her reaction as “outburst” and “going off” in a “rage.” “The mother of all meltdowns,” the New York Post described the behavior of a woman who made it back to the U.S. Open months after an emergency C-section left her incapacitated with potentially life-threatening blood clots and a hematoma.
When she called the umpire a “thief” for taking the points–our friends at Deadspin who know far more about this than I do describe it as a “run-of-the-mill confrontation”–the word apparently qualified as “verbal abuse,” which cost her a full game. The dispute also dampened the Grand Slam title win for her opponent, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam, who idolizes Serena and cried on the podium as she was awarded the cup to boos from the stands. Serena asked the crowd to stop booing and congratulate her opponent.
Now imagine if this were a men’s game. Listen to Serena:
“I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say [the umpire] is a thief because I thought he took the 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 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.’ It blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal–[Alize Cornet] should be able to take her shirt off without getting a fine. This is outrageous... the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that wanna express themselves, and they wanna be a strong woman, and they’re gonna be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s gonna work out for the next person.”
At least there’s one good man.
Go Serena. Go Naomi.