Untaming of the Shrew

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.

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12 Responses to Untaming of the Shrew

  1. Gina says:

    It is extremely unfair how large the bias is, especially in sports, towards men. I also believe Serena, because as a former athlete myself, I can definitely agree that once athletes enter the playing field, they don’t listen to their coaches as easily. (In my experience, it’s typically the adrenaline that hits you once you’re in the action and just focusing on what was practiced rather than changing things up during the match.) There’s been a long history of women being penalized for things that men would be praised for. However, for her to go as far as lashing out and breaking a racquet was highly unprofessional of her, especially for someone who has that high a platform.

  2. Serena Williams is arguably one the greatest tennis players of all time and possible the greatest athlete ever. Time after time again, she has spoiled us with her dominance and elegance on the tennis court winning 23 Grand Slams and now 23-8 in Grand Slam Finals.

    I agree that women are unfairly treated in the world of sports and they do not the respect they so rightfully deserve. Like men, they are trail-blazers of their respective sport. But in this scenario, Patrick, her coach, was inadvertently coaching her, even though she was primarily focused on the task at hand: beating Naomi Osaka. Indeed, is was wrong for the umpire to take away the game from her, but in retrospect, she was allowed to be coached on the court while in play.

  3. Esmond Tsang says:

    Along with golf, tennis is well-regarded in the sense as a “gentlemen’s sport” or “gentlewomen’s sport”. Like many have said, there is a suppression of emotions in the sport, unlike others. Rather than the cheer of fans alongside the array of emotions on a football field, tennis has a serenity in appreciating each strike and movement. This I believe leads to how the athletes are expected to respond. Rather than shouting or unsportsmanly breaking their racquet, tennis athletes take the blow inside.

    One of the earliest memories I have of playing on the varsity tennis team for the first time was about conduct. We began the match with introducing ourselves and shaking our competitor’s hands. During the match, words were frozen between the two sides or even at the bench. The score called before each point and the ceremonial good match was what we were as proper conduct. Did we always follow it? No, but that was the culture of the sport -a certain air of grace.
    Similarly, Williams’ actions can be explained with such a high-stakes match. Osaka, a formidable opponent, surely had similar emotions with her 4-game setback against Navarro, leading to her loss in the Canadian Open. Despite the great emotional feelings one has within a tennis match, it’s easy to justify Serena Williams. With this culture of prestige, tennis is currently facing a grey-zone for how athletes may conduct themselves. Hopefully, as time goes on the system itself will change and issues like Serena’s performance will lead to the beginning of new culture in tennis.

  4. HC says:

    The code violation Ramos issued is logical but also completely biased. He sees William as a female player who needs guidance in games. Just because players are females doesn’t mean they’re weak and dependent. Also, Patrick claims that most coaches use hand gestures as well, but this is almost always ignored since a player in a game is like a dog staring at a treat. If Ramos could pay more attention, as a “chair umpire for the U.S. Open tennis final,” Williams was not even paying attention to anything except her game. I do not think it was fair to issue her THREE code violations, with one just because of talking back, when male players talk back far worse than she does. That’s just how today’s society is, and it should start taking a change.

  5. Linda Arnoldus says:

    It’s in my nature to side with Williams, since she’s a woman of color and a feminist. The social justice warrior in me wants to defend her and say that the ref was racist, sexist, etc. However, I think the situation is a little more complicated than that. Every sport has its rules, and you change those rules through protest, not by angrily smashing your tennis racket. It’s one thing to stand up against sexist norms, but it’s another to go off on a ref for doing his job. Williams’ net worth is $84 million, so she surely has the power to protest and rally support for her cause. I don’t think she went about it the right way, but I do support her cause.

  6. Talle says:

    I do believe that Williams breaking her racket was unprofessional, but if the roles were flipped and she was a male it would be deemed as normal. Women are not allowed to show aggression in any way on any form. I fully back Serena Williams when she states that there is a clear line of inequality. Although her actions could have been more professional, she had every right to react in the way that she did.

  7. Emily says:

    Honestly, I don’t know if it’s because she was a women or Ramos just didn’t like her. I back Williams on the fact that if she was a male this wouldn’t happen and that she didn’t deserve that treatment. I’m sure guys have been coached form the sidelines and things have never been said before or said something that would be considered rude and not charged a penalty. Williams breaking her racket was definitely unprofessional and I understand the warning in place for that, but it shouldn’t have cost her a point. I feel like this whole thing was unfair to Williams and that there was something else going on.

  8. Kinsey says:

    As someone who plays tennis for leisure and played at my home high school, Williams’ actions and comments were entirely inappropriate. Breaking a racket during profession play is ridiculous she has been playing her entire life (i.e. she know the rules). On the other hand, the violations that were imposed upon her have nothing to do with sexism. Men also are called out for such violations. For example, during this season’s Wibledon Men’s Singles champion, Novak Djokovic, was called out during one of his watching for beating his racket on the court (link: https://www.businessinsider.com/wimbledon-novak-djokovic-smashes-his-racket-argues-with-the-umpire-2018-7). Although he is also a profession, he was angry about the call, but finished the match. There is nothing to do with sex. She broke a rule and needs to get over it and take responsibility for losing the match just like everyone else.

  9. Cameron Thomas says:

    I don’t think this was about sex or race, nor do i think that her actions were the most reasonable. Williams is most definitely the Lebron James of women’s tennis. Therefore, I think the umpire was showing her that he had power over her after he saw she was reacting negatively to a bad call. Neither of them handled the situation professionally. I truly understand William’s frustration, but when you’re on that big of a platform, you always have to remain professional whether male or female.

  10. Faith Brown says:

    It has been seen for centuries, women receiving criticism for things that men would have been congratulated for. Why can’t women show their hunger and aggression? Is it unladylike? This analysis is absurd, I have every right in the world to be equal to the men that play sports. If I get angry during a game and decide to slam down my tennis racket, What on earth gives you the gall to question me. Every woman, in any type of sport and anywhere else, has the right to release their tension. While I agree that aggression is not the most valued thing in certain situations, I feel like if she felt a surge of anger she should let it out. If that means smacking her tennis racket to the ground that is totally acceptable. Men are allowed to, so please explain to me why she can not. I also don’t believe that she was being coached, I think she frankly did not care, I feel like she had her eyes on the prize. During the game, Serena even said that she would rather lose than to cheat. Serena has shown us through many occasions that she is a beast and this is not any different. I am a young woman and I believe that what she did was totally acceptable. I back Serena Williams!
    *Even though men are penalized for such these, they get way more allowances of this!

    • Katie Steil says:

      Personally, I see something like breaking a racket and acting upon impulse unprofessional. Keeping calm and cool is important and shows a certain level of maturity, and arguing instead of accepting punishment is childish. I can understand it in the case of the coach’s hand gestures because they would’ve gone unnoticed. I believe that the penalization was right, but the inequality is unfair. Both genders should be held to the same standard when it comes to professionalism. They should be paid based on their successes, penalized based on the offence, and respected for their character.

  11. X says:

    In sports, or in anything really, women usually get the shorter end of the stick, in terms of salary or treatment. Rules and guidelines are overlooked in men, but for some reason, this is not so for women. In this situation, I believe that Williams did not receive vocal instruction from her coach during the match. It is possible that the coach used hand signals, but the possibility of her noticing them is minimal. I understand her penalties for smashing a racquet and arguing with the umpire, but if men do the same and are not punished, then it shows an extreme bias towards them. I don’t understand why men get paid statistically more than women in sports. Even though it is scientifically true that men have more muscle mass than women, that should not be factored into their salaries. The talent, ability, endurance, and determination should be the factors into winning or losing, and if they win, they should be paid just as well as men are. According to tennis traditionalists, it is wrong for women to wear what they want, argue with men, and make any noises deemed unladylike. This inferior view towards the gender showcases one of the biggest issues society has today.

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