Williams’ game at US Open was hindered by inconsistent, biased officiating

Williams’ game at US Open was hindered by inconsistent, biased officiating

Williams’ game at US Open was hindered by inconsistent, biased officiating
September 13
12:00 2018

Serena Williams is arguably one of the best tennis players in the world, but even she is not exempt from unfair treatment based on race and gender.

Williams’ performance at the U.S. Open a few days ago worked many people on social media into a tizzy, shaming the player for displaying such aggression and unprofessionalism and taking away from the winner’s moment. One cartoonist for the Herald Sun proved in his caricaturistic cartoon on the incident that this was about more than tennis and courtliness.

This is your occasional reminder that intent matters very little in cases of bigotry — you don’t have to purposely intend to be racist in order to be racist. It is called implicit bias, and you can read all about it.

So many people on Twitter are dead set on convincing everyone that Williams is indeed a sore loser because apparently that matters. They are quick to point out that “the coach admitted he was coaching, so there, she cheated,” conveniently leaving out crucial context: Williams wasn’t even paying attention to her coach. That’s why she was upset when she was accused of cheating — because she wasn’t.

It’s telling that there is always such a widespread effort to prove instances of sexism and racism were not really about those things — challengers always confidently say, “Not everything has to do with race or gender.” But at some point even they must concede that some things are about race and gender. It flies in the face of history, statistics and reality to believe that racism and sexism just do not exist anymore.

So let’s talk about what it really boils down to: A black, female athlete expressed frustration the same way so many others before her did, argued an arbitrary call and defended herself in the context of a historically white, male-dominated sport, and was unequally punished for it.

We cannot pretend context and nuance do not matter in these circumstances.

Williams was fined $82,000 for an outburst at the 2009 U.S. Open. It should come as no surprise this set — and still holds — the record for the largest fine ever bestowed upon a player at the tournament. If you’ve ever watched tennis before, especially at this level of competition, you’ll know Williams’ so-called “outburst” could truly be considered tame. Male tennis players have tirades much more threatening and intense than this all the time, and they rarely see appropriate fines or punishment.

In 2017, ESPN published a list of the most famous Wimbeldon meltdowns in history. The five white men who made the list struck tennis balls in frustration (Tim Henman’s stray ball hit a ball girl’s face at nearly point-blank range), hurled their rackets across the court and fiercely cursed out match officials.

None of them were fined more than $10,000.

Men are given more space to express their anger and frustration, in sports and beyond. Women, especially in tennis, are not given nearly as much leniency and are expected to retain composure even in the face of unfairness.

There seems to be a social understanding that meltdowns are intrinsic to tennis, as evidenced by the many best-of lists similar to ESPN’s and endless videos online documenting players’ outbursts through the years. The takeaway here is that it’s OK to throw a fit during a tennis match, so long as you aren’t a black woman.

This all goes to show the deep inequities inherent to tennis and unfair discrepancies in the enforcement of certain rules. What happened to Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open is further proof the sport has to make an applied effort to undo its prejudices at every level.

Featured Illustration: Allison Shuckman

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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