Serena Williams’ cries for equality — and all those who are joining the chorus on that note — are understandable, valid to a point even, but misplaced.
The greatest women’s tennis player of all time let her emotions get away from her during the women’s U.S. Open final and, when the umpire enforced the rules to her disadvantage, she and her chances of winning were hurt by it.
And now a whole lot of people, led by Williams, are protesting that penalization, calling it sexist because some male icons of the game have gotten away with similar shenanigans to the ones she pulled as she was losing to Naomi Osaka. The whole scene reached an unfortunate nadir when Osaka’s victory was overshadowed by the Williams’ sideshow.
Here’s the valid part: Female players should be treated no differently than male players. They should not be held to a higher — ugh, ladylike — standard than the men. To do so is beyond unfair, it’s pathetic and ridiculous. When a female player is penalized for taking her shirt off, revealing a sports bra, to put on a fresh, dry shirt, when men routinely have been doing that all bare-chested, that is nothing short of stupid.
If John McEnroe or Nick Kyrgios can chuck his racket around, or swear like a fool, or call the umpire names, if even the normally gentlemanly Roger Federer can bark at the ump, and get away with it, then women, especially one of Williams’ renown, should be able to do likewise.
But that’s looking at this thing backward.
Williams should not be permitted to accept coaching during a match. That’s one of the oldest rules in all of tennis. She should not be allowed to smash her racket or otherwise launch an outburst on the court or verbally abuse an official. She said she’s emotional. So is every other tennis professional who, at times, has allowed frustrations to spill out for all to see.
Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, confessed that, yes, he was coaching Serena during the match and rationalized that everyone breaks that rule. Turns out, she was, in fact, cheating.
This then is what needs to change — the complete, comprehensive, widespread application of existing rules on everybody, for everybody.
Williams’ behavior not only was out of line, it messed over Osaka’s big moment, when she should have been able to exult in the highlight of her young career, winning a Grand Slam event without having to apologize for her victory. For Serena to then take the stand that she was some kind of champion of equality, calling for the women’s side to be treated the same as the men’s, was … convenient.
Again, men and women should be treated exactly the same. But that standard should not be lowered, it should be raised to proper levels, on both sides, levels that go on requiring a standard in the tradition of a great game, one that discourages bad behavior on the court, behavior that can swing momentum, disrupt the flow of a match and change the outcome.
The fact that Serena is an all-time great shouldn’t matter. Matches should be called the same for all athletes, men and women, highly seeded and qualifiers, just the same as in the NBA, a foul should be a foul, no matter who commits it, no matter who is on the receiving end of it. The star treatment is a bastardization of the game. Why should a gifted player receive even greater advantages on account his or her talent?
Equality is important, all around.
Tennis must be standard for and fair to everyone, no matter who the crowd wants to see win, no matter a competitor’s genitalia. Umpires, male or female, requiring something less of men and more of women is a blatant violation of that standard.
It’s pretty simple, really. Officials must look past the shorts and the skirt, and the number of trophies a player wearing either has, but not past anyone’s on-court behavior. Call the damn match the way the rules are written for all humans — favoring no one.
There’s nothing more equal than that.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.