On September 8th, Serena Williams had a chance at history. Looking to tie the all-time record for Grand Slam titles held by Margaret Court, Williams arrived at the US Open, hoping to leave a champion. For the American hero and tennis icon, this was a chance to not only etch her name into the record books, but to win the hearts of a worldwide audience.
By the time the match concluded, Williams found herself unable to attain the record-tying win. She was beaten handily by Naomi Osaka, a twenty year old player from Japan who had never won a Grand Slam title. That day, when Williams stepped off the court, she wasn’t a champion. But, she was still a hero. Or so it seemed.
During the second set of the match, Williams became upset with chair umpire Carlos Ramos after she was given a coaching violation and then docked a point for smashing her racket. Williams, pointing her finger at Ramos, exclaimed “you’re attacking my character… you owe me an apology. You will never ever ever ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.”
After an ultra-brief water break, Williams then turns to Ramos and says “When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it! Say you’re sorry.”
Ramos did not apologize. Williams continues: “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too!” As Williams walks away, Ramos issues her another penalty.
Williams returns and asks, “are you kidding me?” Ramos was not kidding. Williams then asked for the referee to be summoned. The crowd began booing. Williams, visibly upset, repeatedly yelled “that’s not right!” and “this is not fair!”
Williams continues to the referee: “Do you know how many men do things… that are much worse than that? There are a lot of men who have said a lot of things and because they are men, that doesn’t happen… There are men out here who do a lot worse, and because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me!?”
Suddenly, a match that was supposed to be about tennis turned into a match about rules, character, gender, race, equality, and sexism. When Naomi Osaka finally won the match, boos roared from the crowd. What was supposed to be unequivocally the greatest moment of her tennis career became a moment of confusion and shame. Osaka even apologized for winning the match after pulling her cap over tearful eyes at what was supposed to be a ceremony of victory.
After the events concluded, it seemed as if most people were on Serena Williams’s side. The crowd announced their support, and many journalists rushed to champion her as a heroic defender of women’s rights. Ask the average viewer, however, and you’re likely to get a much different response. Browsing through reddit, you’ll find almost no support for Williams and her actions. Check the comments of most articles on the matter and you’ll find most to be disappointed in Williams. But, one thing is for certain: something struck a chord.
The exchange between Serena Williams and Carlos Ramos hits on something much deeper than tennis. It highlights a rift ever present in society. A rift often pegged as “liberal” versus “conservative” values. To me, however, it boils down to a questioning of motive.
What do liberals “want?” What do conservatives “want?” What do people “want?” There are a lot of potential answers, but I would argue that people generally want peace, prosperity, and less suffering. On any given day in any given situation, however, people want a wide variety of things, depending on their current needs. On September 8th, Serena Williams wanted to win.
This is precisely the reason why so many people are upset with her. Everyone knows she showed up to win. When she stepped on the court, she had one thing on her mind: winning the match. When she was down one set to zero and fell to a 4-3 game deficit after being up 3-1 in the second set, that goal was slipping away. So, many feel she then looked for someone or something to blame. The argument against her actions is essentially that she “pulled the sexism card” as a desperation attempt.
Whether one agrees with that or not is up to them, but the scenario highlights something important. Despite a few evil weirdos who are too far gone, everyone wants life to be better and more fair for everyone. People want a fair chance. “Conservatives” generally gear more towards the argument of having things play out and letting everyone fend for themselves, and liberals generally lean towards an argument based around the idea of providing assistance to those who are struggling.
Both sides have their points, but one thing we should agree on is that sometimes there are barriers to fairness. One of these barriers is sexism. Sexism exists. It’s a major offense. When it’s displayed, it needs to be condoned. Where it exists, it should be eradicated. However, when it’s not obvious whether something is sexist or not, we need to be careful.
If we start throwing around the term “sexist” for an umpire (who is known to be strict) for more than likely just trying to do his job the best he can, we run the risk of not being heard when legitimate, harmful sexism occurs. This is arguably the biggest contention between “liberals” and “conservatives” in the modern world. Many people on the left are frustrated with the right for not seriously addressing sexism, racism, and xenophobia; many people on the right are frustrated with the left for carelessly throwing around damaging labels.
So, what should we take away from the events that unfolded at the US Open Final? That Serena Williams is a winy loser with a victim complex, and is just another example of a woman using her gender as an excuse for her own shortcomings? That Carlos Ramos is an uptight sexist umpire, and is just another example of men using their power to dominate and repress women? No, neither of those things. What we should take away is that there is a discussion to be had. A discussion that starts with an acknowledgement of the other side’s humanity. A discussion that includes detail, logic, and truth over personal attack.
If we’re ever going to make the world a fair and peaceful place, free of sexism, racism, and all that is horrid, we must find a way to have this discussion. We must first be able to engage in this debate without calling someone sexist for arguing against the actions of Serena Williams, and without calling someone a snowflake for siding with Serena Williams. We must choose our words carefully, but not be afraid to defend what we truly believe. In order to solve anything serious or meaningful, we first must learn to discuss.
Abad-Santos, Alex. “Serena Williams’s US Open Fight with an Umpire, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 10 Sept. 2018, http://www.vox.com/2018/9/10/17837598/serena-williams-us-open-umpire-carlos-ramos.
Association, Telegraph Sport; Press. “Serena Williams’ US Open 2018 Final Umpire Sexism Row: How It Unfolded, What Was Said and the Tennis World’s Reaction.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 9 Sept. 2018, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tennis/2018/09/09/serena-williams-us-open-2018-final-umpire-row-unfolded-said/#comments.
Press, Associated. “Newspaper Reprints Controversial Serena Williams Cartoon with Headline ‘Welcome to the PC World’.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 12 Sept. 2018, http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/24652846/australian-newspaper-reprints-controversial-serena-williams-cartoon-headline-welcome-pc-world.