Taking a stand or hurting a movement?
On July 19, 1848, American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton said: "The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source."
On August 28, 1963, Dr Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, saying: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
On Sunday, Serena Williams – aka the Rosa Parks of professional tennis – took a stand, and made her own contribution to the canon of great speech railing against inequality with: “You will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar. When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it! Say you're sorry. And you stole a point from me, you're a thief, too."
For those that haven’t caught up with the events from the US Open final, the greatest female tennis player – and perhaps the greatest player of all time, period – played terribly and lost.
During the one-sided defeat to Naomi Osaka, Williams completely lost the plot with chair umpire Carlos Ramos. Eventually, after receiving the above verbal battering from Williams, Ramos docked Williams a game.
Williams then defended her actions by saying she was taking a stand against sexual inequality because Ramos would never have treated a man like he did her.
In support of her stance, Williams pointed out that she was a mother.
In fact, she first produced that undeniable fact when Ramos sanctioned her for receiving illegal coaching from the stands – an act that can be accurately described as cheating.
There’s an awful lot to unpack here, but let’s have a go.
Firstly, Williams has an army of apologists out there in the media giving her a ‘you go girl’ for standing up for what’s right. Shame on them.
Bizarrely, opinion seems roughly divided on whether Williams is a monster or a saint.
She’s neither. A horribly spoiled diva about covers it.
The idea that Williams was the one getting picked on during the match was laughable; almost as laughable as the idea that someone who earns about $US27 million in prizemoney and endorsements each year has been the victim of gender-based discrimination.
This column isn’t sure what Ramos pulls in each year for his umpiring duties, but it seems unlikely the figure will have the same number of zeroes.
Williams has won the US Open six times. She’s spent so much time on centre court at Flushing Meadows that, if possession is in fact nine tenths of the law, she practically owns the joint. In fact, Williams practically owns any tennis court she steps on - something she was at pains to point out to Ramos, who was at best an unwelcome guest with her lovely threat that he would: “Never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live”.
Williams’ claim that Ramos – and tennis umpires in general – would not sanction a man the same way they did a woman for that level of verbal battery isn’t supported by reality.
One clip in particular doing the rounds on social media of John McInroe smashing his racquet and imploding in remarkably similar fashion has been held up as proof of inequality. Unfortunately for those that have viewed it that way, in the match in question McEnroe received the exact same sanction as Williams: he was warned, docked a point and then docked a game.
Williams’ claims of victimisation based on her gender don’t stack up from a financial perspective, either – particularly at the US Open, which has paid men and women equal prizemoney since 1973.
That compares favourably with the other Grand Slams, with Australia taking 28 years to follow suit, and the French Open and Wimbledon not evening the gender pay ledger until 2006.
Having debuted as a pro in 1995, Williams did slog her way through the dark ages when, say, the female champion of the French Open would receive a measly $US720,000 while the men’s champ walked away with $US788,000.
Oh, the depravity.
Then there is the fact that, having played three-set matches throughout her Grand Slam career, as opposed to the five sets played by the men – and wiped the floor with many of her opponents with near obscene alacrity – Williams’ hourly rate would almost certainly compare extremely favourably with the likes of, say, Roger Federer.
The best thing that can be said for Williams is that she is at least keeping alive an issue that does have some valid strands – such as in August when Frenchwoman Alize Cornet received a code violation for changing her shirt court-side, an act undertaken by male players in every professional tennis match ever without issue.
The worst thing that can be said of Williams is that, in attempt to avoid taking responsibility for her disgraceful conduct, and issuing an apology, she has hijacked the gender equality movement, and almost certainly set it backwards.