Tennis and golf are notoriously stuffy, country club sports that depend on the notion of exclusivity for their appeal. If you don’t believe me, compare the advertisers for televised golf with those for football or baseball. The rules of golf and tennis demand mannerly comportment and emphasize good form instead of emotion, and a love of those rules placed Carlos Ramos at the center of international controversy this weekend.
Ramos, the chair umpire for the U.S. Open tennis final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, issued code violations and costly penalties against Williams. Williams has already drawn the ire of tennis traditionalists everywhere. She grunts as she swings. She wears clothes deemed immodest. She has the gall to question authority. When Ramos issued her a “coaching” violation–in professional tennis, players are not to receive instruction from their coaches during a match–she immediately denied communicating with her coach.
I believe her. Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later admitted that he was trying to use hand gestures to encourage her to move six inches from the baseline. However, he added that all coaches do it, and that Williams never noticed him. (Incidentally, that’s why I believe Williams’ account. In all my years as a volunteer coach, I have learned that once people step onto the field of play, they ignore coaches. Seriously. Coaches would have an easier time getting a dog to stop drooling when he sees a treat than getting a player to listen during a game.)
Later, Williams smashed a racquet after losing a critical point. This is an obvious code violation, and because it was her second of the match, she was a assessed a one-point penalty. That cost her a game. When she argued with the umpire over the first violation, she was assessed a one-game penalty, which gave her opponent an insurmountable two-game lead.
Williams has since praised her opponent. Naomi Osaka certainly proved herself worthy of a championship, whether Ramos inserted himself into the match or not. But she has also directed her powerful anger at the sexism involved in the way Ramos–and tennis federations everywhere–treated her. As she pointed out to tournament officials during a heated conversation, “Do you know how many other men do things that are — that do much worse than that?” she said to Kelso. “This is not fair. There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, but if they’re men, that doesn’t happen to them.”
She has a point. Within tennis, pay equity and sartorial standards have long been issues. Men also get away with saying far worse things to officials without any reprimand. The chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association has affirmed it. Williams also has belabored under a double standard regarding shows of emotion. When men do it, they’re proud and assertive; women who show emotion tend to be branded as hysterical.
Such issues hold true in other sports. Men regularly get paid more for their athletic achievements in the same sport–and sometimes for their failures. If the perennially under-achieving U.S. men’s national team got paid what the three-time world champion women received, maybe they’d play a little hungrier.
Of course, Williams has been a lightning rod for the sport. She is outspoken, incredibly successful, and usually right.