We are often told, in response to the slightest criticism of professional sports, about the nobility of the game, whichever game might be the topic. Sport teaches teamwork, hard work, dedication, responsibility, self-sacrifice, humility and above all, sportsmanship. And then we see the spectacle of the US Open and Serena Williams.
For an apparently accurate and surprisingly unbiased, explanation of precisely what happened in the match between 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who is of Japanese/Haitian origin, and Serena Williams, who I’m sure viewers know is black, see this New York Times article. Why do I mention their respective races? Because Williams, and a great many pundits, have raised the twin trigger issues of sexism and racism.
Briefly, Williams was penalized a point, a game, and ultimately lost the match. The first two penalties were imposed as a result of Williams’ bad behavior toward the chair umpire; they were essentially the automatic result, under the rules, of her unsportsmanlike tantrums. However, she lost the match because Osaka was the better tennis player.
Brandon Morse at Redstate provides some perspective:
Serena Williams lost her mind as well as her match on Saturday. [skip]
…I want to focus on Williams claims that the sport of tennis is apparently dominated by that old villain, the patriarchy and his dastardly sexism.
From what I’ve read so far, Ramos is one of the best umpires in the federation. His calls were not personal, and he followed the rules to the letter as he first gave Williams a warning for her first violation, a point penalty for the second violation, and a game point for the third. I realize that in the heat of the moment people can lose their tempers, and there was a lot of heat surrounding Williams. However, Williams cost herself the game by taking it personally and resorting to berating Ramos as a person in return.
As I’m sure readers have heard, at the winner’s ceremony, Osaka, who has always idolized Williams, was booed, which reduced her to tears, and made her feel compelled to apologize for winning.
If Williams is to blame anyone for her loss to Osaka, it’s Williams, not Ramos, and definitely not sexism. Her coach actually should shoulder a lot of the blame, but I see absolutely no one blaming him, and he actually confessed to breaking the rules.
Yet Williams wants this to be about sexism, not her entitled attitude. Are there instances of unfairness in Tennis? From what I can read, the answer is ‘yes it does happen from time to time,’ and this should change. It should change with a better enforcement of the rules for everyone, and not just letting women get away with breaking them in the name of fairness, which is what Williams was pushing for all intents and purposes.
Yet Williams, and her many supporters, have resorted to a social justice narrative of sexism, oppression, and have even invoked racism, primarily by talking about how Williams has suffered over the years for her race. However, one may not feel overly bad about Williams’ suffering; she took home $1.85 million for coming in second place, minus about $17,000 for her bad behavior. Osaka won $3.8 million dollars.
Among Williams’ contentions was that other tennis players, primarily men, break the rules all the time and get away with it. Morse does provide examples to the contrary, but let us, gentle readers, consider this argument.
Serena Williams voluntarily plays professional tennis. According to Forbes in 2017 her lifetime earnings were then $84 million dollars, and certainly much more circa 2018. Surely, playing tennis at the highest levels is demanding, hard work, but Williams has been reasonably well compensated for her effort and whatever sacrifice may have been involved. Still, for the opportunity to become a multimillionaire for playing a game, she—and every tennis player—agrees to abide by the rules of the sport. That seems a small sacrifice indeed.
Perhaps some tennis players do break the rules and sometimes get away with it, but all know that when they break the rules, they run the immediate risk of paying the prescribed penalties, the invocation of some of which are at the discretion of umpires and other officials; others are automatic. It may be unfair that some are penalized and some are not for similar bad behavior, but all know the penalties and have chosen to place themselves under the jurisdiction of the tennis establishment, which may, if it chooses, address any potential unfairness in the application of the rules. Williams chose to roll the bad behavior dice, and this time, she was called on it. Morse continues:
Yet we’re being lead to believe that Williams is bravely standing up against an unfair system of men that punishes women unjustly. While there are a few ridiculous calls out there made against women in the past (Alizé Cornet’s code violation for fixing her shirt while men are known to go topless on the court being a glaring one) what Williams did was childish, abusive, and just plain mean. Not only did it paint an innocent man doing his job as a villain, her attitude stole a moment of pure glory away from another woman who even looked up to her.
And it’s not as if Williams hasn’t been down this road before. In 2009, Williams lost a match after having a point deducted after she abused an umpire, and that umpire was a female. This entire debacle isn’t a story of Williams facing sexism, it’s a story of Williams lack of control over her temper.
The NYT reports Osaka behaved like a champion:
Osaka came in afterward and finally had a chance to express happier feelings about the win, her parents, her coach, and how she will be received in Japan, where she will be welcomed as a hero at a tournament in Tokyo this month.
She said that she really did not know what happened during the dispute, and insisted that she still held the same adoration for Williams, no matter what happened.
‘I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.”
The only thing that really changed is that now Osaka is a Grand Slam champion, too.
And obviously in more than athletic accomplishment.
What appears to have happened here is a moment of awakening–perhaps subconscious, perhaps not–for Williams, a moment of awakening I described back in 2012. Serena Williams, days from her 37th birthday, may have just realized she gets older every year, but her opponents, like Naomi Osaka, are always 20. There is no right to win a given tennis tournament, no guarantee. I wrote:
From my late 30s into my 40s, I was, once again, a police officer and worked hard to rebuild my conditioning. By then, I had much more upper body strength and mass than in my teen years, and by regularly running severe, steep and long hills, built up a remarkable level of fitness. My police department used to do the relay portion of the Black Hills Marathon with four guys running something more than 6 miles each. I was able to manage in the 5-6 minute per mile range, as could the others, but we were still being beaten by the other entrants, like the law enforcement team from the local Air Force Base. We finally figured it out: we were getting older each and every year, and they were always 20. That was a stunning, but valuable insight.
Eventually, the running stopped. All those miles, all those hills just wore out some of the moving parts. My knees simply wouldn’t take the pounding anymore, particularly since I’d also added weight, weight that I’ve discovered is ridiculously easy to add, but fiendishly difficult to remove as one increases in age. If I was to maintain conditioning, I would have to bicycle, and an on-the-job neck injury forced me into recumbents, which is one of the more fortunate choices I’ve made in life (marrying Mrs. Manor was, without question, the most fortunate choice).
At first, speed was all that mattered, but as age intruded, forcing longer recovery periods, which allowed more time for contemplation, I realized that while regular exercise is important, living honorably, treating others with sincerity, and caring for loved ones is far more valuable. So I ride at Mrs. Manor’s speed, even helping to push her up some of the more brutal hills. Sure, I can ride faster, but riding with her provides greater rewards.
One might think merely being 37 isn’t an issue. I didn’t think that either until one day, I suddenly realized it was, and I was never a professional athlete, functioning at the highest levels of a sport. Mark Twain said “aging is a matter of mind over matter. As long as you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,” but he wasn’t referring to athletics, and particularly not professional athletics. It takes little imagination to realize the wear and tear on the body of playing tennis—a high impact sport—for decades at those levels. At some point, no amount of skill and experience can overcome the same level of skill and less experience, but in a 20–year-old body.
When that happens, the lessons of decades of experience in sportsmanship should help one to adapt with some degree of humility and grace, to realize it is time to make way for a new generation of athletes, to display, in a word, sportsmanship. It is at this Serena Williams so publically failed.
Williams insulted the umpire and blatantly demanded he apologize for doing his job, for honestly and competently holding her accountable for the rules to which she voluntarily, and with fabulous compensation, agreed to abide. She has since compounded her poor behavior by trying to excuse and conceal it with social justice narratives. She is bravely standing up for women–multimillionaire women about to be handed a $1.85 million dollar paycheck. It is a narrative, considering her success and wealth, most Americans will find unpersuasive. The only honest narrative is she behaved badly, and in so doing, denied Naomi Osaka what should have been one of the most meaningful and joyous moments of her life.
There are indeed apologies owned, and all by Serena Williams, who, at this point in a very lucrative career, would be best served by deciding how she wants to be remembered as 20-year-olds line up to challenge her, and as she becomes, inexorably, older every year.
UPDATE, 09-15-18, 1030 CST: I was waiting for this information. From Yahoo Sports:
However, in the four Grand Slam events over the past 20 years, men have been penalized significantly more often than women, according to a New York Times report on Friday.
The report, looking at fines data at Grand Slam events from 1998 to 2018, found that women were fined 535 times, while men were fined 1,517 times.
Women only outnumbered men in two categories over the past two decades — racking up 152 fines for coaching, compared to just 87 for men, and 10 no press fines, compared to just six for men.
Here are some of the biggest fines, from the New York Times:
* Racket Abuse — Men 646, Women 99
* Audible Obscenity — Men 344, 140
* Unsportsmanlike Conduct — Men 287, Women 67
* Verbal Abuse — Men 62, Women 16
* Ball Abuse — Men 49, Women 35
* Visible Obscenity — Men 20, Women 11
Hmmm. So it seems Serena Williams is not quite the noble, courageous champion against sexism and for women she and her thoughtless supporters have made her out to be. Of course, where a social justice narrative is involved, facts are irrelevant.