BECK: Suddenly everyone has an opinion about tennis
by Chris Beck, special to GrandSlam Magazine
The debate over the women’s final at Arthur Ashe stadium, where Serena Williams clashed with umpire Carlos Ramos, has spilled from the sports pages into the realm of activists and ideologues who lack deep understanding of tennis.
Many are jumping on the bandwagon, forming hasty conclusions and spin-doctoring the story instead of presenting facts, which used to be the bedrock of good journalism.
In The Cut, which New York Magazine describes as “the premier destination for women with stylish minds,” Rebecca Traister not only doesn’t know the rules, she doesn’t care about them.
“I don’t care much about the rules of tennis that Serena Williams was accused of violating at Saturday night’s U.S. Open final. Those rules were written for a game and for players who were not supposed to look or express themselves or play the game as beautifully and passionately as either Serena Williams or the young woman who eventually beat her, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, do. They are rules written for a sport that, until Williams and her sister came along, was dominated by white players, a sport in which white men have violated those rules in frequently spectacular fashion and rarely faced the kind of repercussions that Williams — and Osaka — did on Saturday night.”
Does she really think that the esteemed stewards of tennis tailored the rules for people of a certain color who express themselves in particular ways that are not aesthetically appealing? How does that work? It’s bad enough that the writer admits she knows nothing about tennis. But to her, that’s not important because she’s addressing loftier issues.
Actually, the rules do matter, especially because Saturday’s incident was directly related to whether umpire Ramos properly enforced rules or not. To assess what happened, you need to know those rules.
Traister writes that Ramos censured Williams for reasons that “cannot be disentangled from her gender and race.” In other words, she’s implying that Ramos is a sexist and racist. That’s a damning accusation to make against someone without evidence. “The umpire insinuated that Serena was herself not playing fair and square,” she writes. In fact, Ramos followed the rules and gave Serena a code violation because of the actions of her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. This doesn’t mean that Serena was trying to cheat, but her coach was.
Somehow, Serena wants us to believe that she never receives coaching, and does not understand these rules. Even if that’s true, it’s clear that she couldn’t control her temper as the match got away from her.
Many writers are following Serena’s example and over-reacting. Logic and common sense are getting away from them. Former Republican rising star and current liberal Kurt Bardella apparently didn’t notice that Naomi Francois Osaka, a Japan-born American of Haitian and Japanese descent, simply outplayed Serena, kept her composure and deserved to win her first grand slam title at age 20. “Blatant sexism costs Serena Williams tennis title,” screams the USA Today headline.
Did they not watch the match? Bardella writes that the rule against coaching during a match is “for reasons no one can really understand.” In other words, Bardella can’t understand it. Almost everybody who follows tennis does understand it. They realize that the rule is intended to force players to solve problems for themselves in the heat of battle, including how to deal with an umpire’s strict interpretation of rules.
Bardella uses many comparisons to other sports in his argument, pointing to temper tantrums by basketball players, as well as baseball players breaking bats in anger. But that’s irrelevant because tennis has its own rules, designed to apply to everyone equally. Just because Steph Curry can get away with throwing his mouthpiece on the court doesn’t mean that Serena Williams can smash her racquet or insult an umpire with impunity. If Bardella wants to make a case for tennis being too genteel and bound to outdated rules, that’s fine. But don’t try to claim that sexism is built into the rules. It’s not.
It’s remarkable that Bardella didn’t even mention the winner of the match, Naomi Osaka. For him, the US Open final pitted Serena Williams versus The System.
It’s a similar argument found in activist Carys Afoko’s piece in The Guardian, headlined “Serena Williams’s treatment shows how hard it is to be a black woman at work.”
“The fact that the tennis player manages to overcome the discrimination she faces every day is an inspiration,” writes Afoko. Yes, Serena does have to deal with discrimination. But she’s also worth an estimated $180 million, and can afford to travel with an entourage who solve problems for her. Is Serena’s life really more difficult than, say, a low-paid umpire named Ramos?
Ignoring the match, Afoko writes of the discrimination black women like herself receive on an everyday basis, especially at work. It’s an important issue that deserves attention. But it’s a leap to compare her struggles to what Serena faces playing a game — yes, a game — where the champion of the two-week tournament receives $3.8 million in prize money. Is Serena’s life really that hard?
The work of Traister, Bardella and Afoko is tame compared with this headline on CBS News. “Serena Williams’ U.S. Open loss may be the grossest example of sports sexism yet.”
Really? Did sexism defeat Serena? Or was it the speed, consistency, composure and 115 mph serves of Naomi Francois Osaka, a powerful young player with the potential to dominate the tour.
By the way, if sexism and racism was defeating Serena, why wasn’t it also beating up on Naomi, who is also a woman of color.
Maybe because Naomi — not The Racist, Sexist System — was better than Serena on Saturday.
(images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media, all rights reserved)