Serena’s Double Standard

I know you’ve seen it all over the internet. Serena and the umpire and the backlash that has ensued. It’s awful and ugly and heartbreaking to see… but I really think we NEED to see it. Not to be angry (which I am) but to realise that if nothing changes… then nothing changes. 

Seeing women treated so differently from men hurts… a lot. But if we don’t face it then we can’t change it. And Serena has been facing it head on for a while now. Williams has already endured countless obstacles this season, from losing her seeding due to her pregnancy, overcoming drastic health complications from her birth, and then having her medically necessary catsuit deemed unacceptable by French tennis officials. And now this…


In The US Open Tennis Final, Ramos, the chair umpire, gave Serena a warning for supposedly getting “coached” via a hand signal. If you’re not familiar with Tennis, know that hand gestures from coaches are SO common that this is mind boggling. It wasn’t even likely that Serena even saw it or if it would have impacted her game in any way. The call seemed purposefully made to diminish perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time, during a year in which she has made a return to the sport after having had a baby, come close to dying after a postpartum hematoma, and lost her No. 1 seed as a result of her absence from the game.

To make the coaching call, in the middle of a match that she knew she was going to lose fair and square, and to suggest that Serena was cheating made her livid. As it should. And we all know that black women aren’t allowed to be angry without consequence……. but that’s another feature!!

And then others chimed in… like Billie Jean King and the head of the U.S. Tennis Association…

While the head of the U.S. Tennis Association said that both Serena Williams and the chair umpire shared some responsibility for a situation that spiralled out of control, she believes there is a double standard at play when it comes to how male and female tennis players are treated.

“In my opinion, right now, yes, and it probably always has been,” Katrina Adams, the CEO of the sport’s governing body, told “CBS This Morning” Tuesday. “I think it’s a matter of having a conversation with the two guys and saying let’s cut it out, let’s slow it down, and then perhaps not understanding how they can have the same conversation with the females. We shouldn’t have to carry that extra weight on our back in anything that we do. I think that’s probably the context of the conversation.”

Compare the neutral coverage of male players’ transgressions from Roger Federer to Novak Djokovic with what happened to Serena. Just this season alone Dominic Thiem smashed multiple rackets. At the Rome Open in May, the Sky Sports commentary observed: “Broke it in style, didn’t he?” as Thiem violently destroyed his racket. “Not condoning it, but you can understand his frustration.” When he did it AGAIN in the US Open, they applauded him for giving the broken racket to a fan. SO much different than what happened with Serena.

And don’t even get me started on the “bad boys” of tennis…  Male tennis players have gotten away with much worse behaviour for years. John McEnroe had a long and storied career of cursing out officials, throwing his racket, verbally attacking his opponents, which made him famous as the bad boy of tennis. Roger Federer repeatedly cursed at a linesman, saying, “don’t f*cking talk to me.”

The Backlash

Here we go with the double standard again. Add racism and some more misogyny and we have the perfect storm of what is happening to Serena right now.

She has been accused of going “nuclear” during the 2018 US Open women’s final by a conservative columnist at The Herald Sun, the Australian newspaper that published a vulgar cartoon grossly exaggerating her weight, lips, and nose and depicting her as an angry baby. The paper has also attempted to discredit her character.


I myself MUCH prefer this cartoon…


Stung by what they perceive as a lack of institutional support for the chair umpire who gave Serena Williams a game penalty late in the U.S. Open women’s final, which set off a firestorm of criticism, other umpires are reportedly discussing the possibility of boycotting her matches. Top umpires are also considering the formation of a union, according to a report Tuesday, in part because they are not allowed to discuss specific matches.


Serena Williams’ tears of frustration are very familiar to all women (and especially to women of colour). The righteous anger and rage that comes with being treated and punished unfairly. Is it any wonder that, after all the years of abuse Williams has suffered from tennis officials, that she has finally lost her temper? But we can’t have an “angry black woman” right?  In scenarios like these I always draw on the words of Marianne Williamson ….. “there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you”.  I can’t imagine the amount of “shrinking” Serena has had to do whilst maintaining her position at the top of the Tennis world.  There have probably been times when she has experienced racist language but felt it better to keep quiet for fear of being labelled.  She’s possibly been on the receiving end of limiting language in an arena where nobody who looks like her has achieved so much, so as a ‘first’ has created confusion with those around her.  There’s so much to discuss here. 

Why weren’t Williams’s headlines similar to the men who’d lost their temper? Why wasn’t she praised for insisting that the fans celebrate Naomi Osaka’s win, her arm around the young victor, telling the crowd not to boo? 

We NEED to talk about this… I’m up for discussing all of this with you on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram.