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Monday, September 10, 2018

The Right and Wrong of Serena Williams

"To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart." 
-Eleanor Roosevelt

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a massive double standard in this world when it comes to the same behaviour demonstrated by men and women. In every sphere of life, from the bedroom and boardroom to the tennis court, outbursts of juvenile, rude, selfish and churlish behaviour are forgiven or excused when men act out, but when a woman does the same it is called hysteria, emotional immaturity and deemed unacceptable.

Many people are making arguments to excuse Serena’s angry outburst on the basis of this double standard. Some are excusing it based on the fact that because of her race, she has had to work many times harder than a white woman to break through in what has been historically a white person’s sport. I have long respected and admired both Williams sisters for their achievements. No question they have succeeded against all the odds. Few people would have the grit and tenacity, even if they had the talent, to stay the course and reach the pinnacle of this sport. For me Serena is the greatest tennis player, male or female, that has ever lived but it still does not give her a right to behave badly.

Something worth mentioning here is that Carlos Ramos, the referee, is considered one of best and fairest in the business; Serena admitted as much during her post match press conference. Mr. Ramos has a reputation for being a stickler for the rules, and has issued conduct violations to both Roger Federer and Novac Djokovic. Venus Williams got a warning for receiving coaching from her box. Andy Murray felt his wrath at the 2016 Olympics for saying “stupid umpiring” and Nick Kyrgios got one for shouting at a towel boy. So while there is no question that issuing the third violation to Ms. Williams without a final warning in a Grand Slam final was overly harsh, looking at Mr. Ramos’s history we can conclude that he has been consistent in his umpiring.

However, I still think Serena raised a larger point about an existing double standard that we need to discuss and address, but in doing so I am not willing to excuse Ms. Williams’s behaviour and still find it completely unacceptable.

The question we need to ask is what are people fighting for, when condoning Serena’s behaviour?

Are they saying that, because men often behave like complete assholes, acting out like juvenile, spoiled, thoughtless, nasty brats who need to belittle others to feel better about their own insecurity; women should have these same rights? The right to make Naomi Osaka feel like shit, through no fault of her own, to make her look like she was at a funeral after winning her first Grand Slam. To steal from her the joy of a great victory over an even greater champion on the grandest stage in the sport? To have her booed for her greatest achievement, booed to the point that she felt the need to apologise for a stunning victory built on showing maturity, tenacity, humility and class beyond her years?

Is this what we are fighting for by condoning her behaviour? There is something better we can demand and strive for out of the events that took place.

We can demand that men no longer get a free pass for their bad behaviour and public outbursts. We can suggest that Kanye West get banned from the MTV music Awards for rudely snatching the mic from Taylor Swift, rather than suggesting him as a host for the next show. We can boycott Alec Baldwin’s movies and TV shows when he leaves messages for his 11 year old daughter calling her a rude, thoughtless pig.” We can ensure that Ray Rice gets a lifetime ban from the NFL, not a pathetic two game suspension for physically abusing his wife.

I have written about why I believe women make more fair and effective leaders than men and it was in the moments when Serena asked the crowd to finally stop booing, and the post-match press conference where she said she ‘could learn from Naomi’ that she won back some hearts and demonstrated the leadership and maturity we expect from an elder statesmen of the sport.

Sports stars, musicians and actors are among the most powerful role models for young, impressionable minds. I believe they should be setting the example by holding themselves to a higher standard because of the pedestal they will always find themselves upon. So I would rather Ms. Williams apologise for her behaviour, to Ms. Osaka, Mr. Carlos and her millions of adoring young fans, and then declare that she is going on a crusade to penalize men equally and end all bad behaviour in her sport.

In the words of one of my favourite people, I hope Ms. Williams and other female luminaries of tennis decide that, “When they go low, we go high”.