I am a big fan of Serena. However, when I was reading an article about what went down at her match yesterday, I literally had to stop reading. I was cringing too badly, and I don’t like reading about people I like doing stupid things.
I think I stopped when I read that her coach had acknowledged coaching Serena but excused it by saying “everyone does it.” (I’m inclined to believe him.) The problem is that Serena swore up and down that he wasn’t coaching her, going so far as to invoke her daughter. So there are only two scenarios in which Serena wasn’t lying. (a) Her coach lied when he admitted coaching her. This seems extraordinarily unlikely. (b) He was coaching her, but she didn’t realize it. It seems unlikely this is the only time he’s done this, so we’d have to believe that he’d been up there waving his hands around and she’s just been completely oblivious. Possible. But unlikely.
Was the umpire’s handling of the coaching unfair? Given that Serena’s coach was in fact apparently was coaching, it doesn’t seem like it, though if it is extremely common for coaches to do this, then perhaps it was. This is a really important point because this is what kicked off the whole thing and set the tone for the match.
The racket penalty was caused by the coaching thing; because there’d already been a warning, that turned into a penalty. In and of itself, it wasn’t unfair. The controversy arises from Serena calling the umpire a “thief” and he giving a penalty as a result. I’d love to see some data on whether this is in fact irregular or not. From what I’ve read, it seems that it may in fact have been, but I haven’t seen anyone actually compile data. Even if it was irregular, it seems a little over-the-top to attribute it to sexism. Maybe it was racism. Or maybe he was just mad because she was so aggressive. It would be really useful to see data on this particular umpire. Honestly, if I were an umpire, I’d be very disinclined to take that kind of hostility. But I don’t follow tennis, so I don’t know what’s normal and acceptable.
Maybe Serena was so angry because she’s witnessed this ump behave in a sexist manner before, or something he’d done led her to believe that he was in fact sexist. Sometimes you just get that sense from people.
Honestly, though, I found the French Open’s comments and policy change based on Serena’s attire far more sexist. I thought that was egregious. In that instance, Serena responded very politely; to me, that was blatant sexism and I wish she’d called them out on it and not been so polite.
There is a great deal of sexism in the world, but I think it’s important to be careful about calling out people for sexism when it’s not clear that it actually exists.
Update – Doesn’t sound to me like the umpire is sexist. Possibly an overly strict (bad?) umpire, but not sexist. “No sexist issue there,” said Chris Evert, the former world No. 1, on Sunday. “His history with men players shows that.” Interestingly, the umpire also gave Venus a coaching penalty. She stated at the time, that at age 36 it was the first and only penalty of that nature that she’d received (and disputed it). Same coach? Legit?