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September 10 2018

Why Serena Williams’ Claim of Sexism at the US Open Falls Flat

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Tennis champion Serena Williams snatched the headlines this weekend for how she lost the US Open. She claims there was sexism against her, but her outburst of defiance was more about her conduct on and off the court.

36-year-old Williams faced 20-year-old rising star, Naomi Osaka, who beat her and became Japan’s first Grand Slam champion (and perhaps the first of Haitian descent too). However, all of the attention shifted to Serena’s responses to the penalties she incurred, which she suggests contributed to her loss.

During their match, the umpire withdrew a point from Williams for what he perceived as taking signals from her coach. Williams then smashed and destroyed her racket on the court which earned a second violation and lost a point. Later, she berated the chair umpire calling him a “thief” for taking away her point.

A CNN opinion writer concluded this amounts to a double-whammy of sexism and racism:

“The penalty against Serena Williams is evidence that black women still face an uphill battle, and we have a lot of work left to do if we are to be a society of equals.”

Serena Williams is a mother facing an uphill battle to climb back to the top of the tennis charts following a near-death childbirth and protracted maternity leave. While her situation is sympathetic, she is not necessarily a victim.

Over the weekend, her coach admitted that he was giving her signals (but he didn’t think she saw him) and that “100 percent” of coaches give signals to their players in “100 percent” of the games but get away with it.

This time, he and his athlete were caught and penalized. However, if Serena’s her female opponent got away with allegedly taking coaching while on the court too, then this is not about sexism but unequal calls on the part of the umpire. In tennis as in other sports, some players and teams get away with behaviors that others get hammered for. Just ask the New England Patriots.

Women in tennis are not the only ones to get penalized for their behavior either. Last month French player Benoit Paire destroyed several tennis rackets to release his frustration with losing his matches. He incurred penalties and was fined $16,500.

Pundits and some on the left are quick to make this an example of black-women victimhood, but they need to honest about the situation and Williams' role in all of this.

It may have felt unfair to Williams that she got a penalty, but that doesn’t rise to systemic sexism. Berating the umpire took her anger a step further that is not tolerated in sports.

There is one way to ensure that this doesn’t happen again though. Eliminate the penalty for coaching entirely or require all umpires to enforce the penalty 100 percent of the time. That may lead to a host of other issues in the game though.

Osaka, who looks up to Williams, was gracious about the whole episode noting, “It was always my dream to play Serena in the US Open finals, so I'm really glad that I was able to do that.” Her idol could take a lesson from Osaka about graciousness.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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