The US Open might be over for Serena Williams, who lost the women’s singles final Saturday evening, but her fight against sexism in sports is not.
The match ended in a stunning fashion Saturday, with both Williams and the game’s winner, Naomi Osaka, in tears. A dispute between Williams and the game’s umpire, Carlos Ramos, over what was initially a minor infraction quickly spun out of control. After the match during a press conference, the 23-time Grand Slam champion took the opportunity to reflect on sexism in tennis and defend the right of women to show emotion in sports — a right that is generally afforded much more liberally to men.
“I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal [rights],” Williams said.
She later added, “I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves, and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re going to be allowed to do that because of today.”
Everyone should listen to this from Serena Williams. pic.twitter.com/TF03dhpq2P— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) September 8, 2018
Here’s a brief overview of what happened: During the final women’s match of the US Open in New York on Saturday, Ramos issued Williams a warning over “coaching,” because he thought her coach was signaling her on the court. She disputed the matter, and later when he gave her a point penalty for smashing her racket, she again approached him to complain, calling him a “thief.” Ramos gave her a “verbal abuse” penalty that cost her a game at an important moment in the set.
Were Williams’s reactions emotional? Yes. Were they incredibly egregious? Not according to her fellow tennis stars.
After the match, a reporter asked Williams what she would change about what happened.
“I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief because I thought he took a game from me, but I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things, and I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff,” Williams said. “And for me to say thief, and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never took a game from a man because they said thief.”
Williams and other women have faced sexism in tennis for years — including this year, and this tournament
Williams, who is returning from maternity leave and dealt with serious health complications after the birth of her daughter last year, has for years faced racist and sexist attacks. Just in August, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said in a Tennis magazine interview that future French Opens would ban Williams from wearing the catsuit she wore in this year’s tournament. Williams has a history of blood clots, and the outfit is, in part, designed to help improve circulation.
And it’s not just Williams who has faced sexism in tennis, or in this year’s US Open alone. French player Alizé Cornet was penalized earlier in the tournament for briefly taking off her shirt on the court. The circumstance: She realized when she came out of the locker room that she’d put her shirt on backward, and she quickly turned away from cameras and switched it around, exposing her black sports bra for a matter of seconds.
Eventually, the United States Tennis Association said it “regretted” the situation and noted Cornet only received a warning and not a penalty or fine.
Busted for code violation #alizecornet took 10 sec to turn top right way but #novacdjokovic can sit for minutes half-naked. Same comp. Days after @serenawilliams slammed for disrespecting tennis because she wore a #catsuit. Not fair. Not right. Tell your daughters pic.twitter.com/pJILnwvUvG— Alissa Warren (@alissawarren) August 29, 2018
Williams called the Cornet situation “outrageous” in the press conference.
Even as they praised Osaka’s play, others in the sports world came to Williams’s defense, as well.
“I have heard with my own ears Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and plenty of lesser known players say far worse than ‘thief’ on the court with far lesser [consequences],” ESPN host Mike Greenberg wrote on Twitter.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,” former tennis pro Billie Jean King tweeted, “When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.”
See Williams’s full remarks below:
I don’t know, you definitely can’t go back in time, but, I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief because I thought he took a game from me, but I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things, and I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. And for me to say thief, and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never took a game from a man because they said thief. For me it blows my mind.
But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal — like Cornet should be able to take her shirt off without getting a fine. This is outrageous.
And I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves, and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re going to be able to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.