Is Tennis a White (Wo)Man’s Game?
BY: NATALIE RAMSEUR
I typed up a wikipedia search for John McEnroe, needing to find something quick about the man who, to my knowledge, is a white male tennis player that is known for his temper.
McEnroe’s tennis ability is largely weighted above his controversial behavior, with the exception of his disqualification of the Australian Open in 1990. He must, of course, be the only white male tennis player whose ability is more important than his behavior, right?
Apparently not. In 1991, Jimmy Connors went on a verbal attack on an umpire attacking him for calling one of his own shots out. Throughout recent history, white male tennis players have gotten into screaming matches with umpires, only to continue thriving in the tennis world. Andre Agassi and even Roger Federer had incidents.
Serena Williams, like any other player, does display her temper, and can be unsportsmanlike at times, slamming her racquet and yelling when she gets frustrated. Frustration is a normal human emotion, but, in the final match of the 2018 US Open, umpire Carlos Ramos penalty call has been seen by many as punishment for Williams for receiving reinforcement from her coach.
Positive reinforcement is used to express the emotion of happiness and pride, and Serena is allowed to feel (and wear) what she likes. Ramos, on the other hand, did not have the time of day for this, as he accused Williams of cheating and proceeded to call her out, dock her a game, and fine her later for her behavior.
Though it was arguably less extreme than Jimmy Connors calling an umpire “an abortion” in 1991, an action which he was not penalized for. Serena was arguing for what she believed in, as she did nothing wrong, and she was penalized for it.
So what made Ramos feel like this was necessary? Why did the US Open feel that punishing Serena is necessary? Why do tennis authorities frequently drug test Serena more than most other tennis players?
Maria Sharapova was pardoned for illegal drug usage after claiming that she didn’t know that meldonium was on the banned substances list. The system, as well as tennis authorities, worked in her favor, rather than against the favor or Williams, who endures frequent drug testing, fines, and penalties.
Another important question to consider: Why is Naomi Osaka, the winner of the 2018 US Open women’s singles final, being whitewashed and having her Haitian identity ignored in favor of her arguably lighter Japanese identity?
Osaka’s victory is a great one for Japan and Japanese tennis fans, however Osaka is half Haitian, and that is being ignored.
In cartoons, she is whitewashed, made to look as pale as possible, given blonde hair even though her hair has blonde highlights and ombre, and her win in the tennis world as a powerful black woman is partially erased.
The answer is clear: the tennis world is either afraid of or resistant to the power of black women.
Officials and authorities are able to handle “sore loser” behavior from Sharapova, McEnroe, Federer, Agassi, Novak Djokovic, and many others. But when it comes to players of color, this is not the case.
The system works for white tennis players and against black tennis players. Nonetheless, the Williams sisters and Naomi Osaka have forged a path and provided inspiration for women of color.