posted on Sep, 9 2018 @ 11:18 AM
So, at the US Open yesterday, Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams for the Women's Championship. That wasn't the story though. Williams received
first a warning, then a point penalty, and then a game penalty for 3 separate code violations in the second set, and of course today the story is that
the umpire is racist, sexist, or both.
First of all, let me say I like Serena Williams. She's a tremendous player, and she's usually very gracious in defeat. She always speaks highly of
the other player. Even in this instance, once everything was over, she was very kind to Osaka. She told the crowd to stop booing and celebrate her win
and congratulated her. She does have a history of letting her temper cost her though, and taking things way too personally. A few years back she got
disqualified from a match for threatening a line judge that called her for a foot fault. The line judge was correct, but Williams started carrying on
about how this line judge "had it out for me" and nonsense like this. It was embarrassing, and she deserved to get disqualified.
One other thing I will say, there IS a double standard in tennis about how quickly the umpires tend to penalize the women for unsportsmanlike
conduct versus how much they let the men get away with. This has been known for years, and I don't think it's right. However, it's not something
you should try to correct during a match. The women should've got together and addressed this long ago. That said, let's review what
Osaka won the first set. During the second set, the chair umpire gave Williams a warning for a code violation for coaching. For anyone who doesn't
know, the coaches are in the stands during the match, and they're not allowed to give the player any advice, including hand signals. The network did
catch an obvious shot of Williams's coach giving a hand signal that she should move forward toward the net more, and he admitted he made such a
gesture afterwards. He also said he wasn't actually trying to coach her and she didn't see it. That's entirely possible. We've all been sitting at
home watching sports and yelled at the tv that your team should do xyz to adjust their play. You're not trying to coach them, you're just expressing
what you think they should do, knowing they have no idea you did so. It's entirely possible that's all he was doing.
Let's be honest though, knowing that coaching is against the rules, this is stupid on his part because the umpire doesn't know what your intention
is. He was correct to call it a coaching violation. This is normal, this happens, to male and female players, and it's just a warning. It doesn't
impact the score in any way. She went over and tried to convince the umpire that it wasn't coaching and she doesn't cheat, but honestly what's he
supposed to say to that? Imagine in football if a ref throws a flag for holding and the player runs up and says "I wasn't holding." Is the ref just
gonna say "Oh, okay, I'll take your word for it," and pick up the flag? That's not how sports officiating works, with men or women, black or
white. This was not a race or gender issue, sorry.
I will note that one of the ladies in the commentary box observed that right after this, Williams started moving forward more. I will also note that
at smaller tournaments where coaching is allowed, Williams has a history of virtually never getting advice from her coach. She's a very experienced
and intelligent player and normally makes adjustments herself. Whether that was a natural adjustment to her game or whether she saw the hand signal,
we'll probably never know.
The key thing to note here though is that she's already received a warning. Once you receive a warning, the next time you commit a code violation
it's a one-point penalty. Every subsequent violation after that is a one-game penalty, which is a huge penalty. As a professional athlete,
once you're in this position, it would behoove you to be on your best behavior the rest of the match to avoid getting a point taken away. Williams
did not do this.
Not long after this, after losing a crucial point to Osaka, she smashed her racquet on the ground. This is where it gets dicey. This is what I was
talking about where the umpires tend to be more lenient with the men. They tend to get penalized less for smashing racquets. However, I've also seen
women smash their racquet and not get a warning or penalty. It really just seems to be up to the discretion of the chair umpire. I think that's
ridiculous. It's either against the rules or it's not. Sports rules should be as cut and dry as possible, with very little grey area and
subjectivity, wherever possible. In this case though, likely because he had already given her a warning, the umpire decided to penalize her.
Things quickly spiraled out of control from here. Williams lost her mind while she was sitting at her chair during the commercial break, bitching the
umpire out for a solid 2 minutes and calling him names. Needless to say, that's against the rules too. So now she got another code violation, her
third, which was a one-game penalty. The umpire was correct in his call on this too. Williams demanded his supervisor come out, which is within her
rights. The umpire's supervisor, who was a woman I must stress, came out, listened to Williams, but ultimately did not overturn the umpire's
call. I've seen them do this before, so they do sometimes overrule the umpire. Obviously the supervisor did not think the umpire was in the wrong
So, where does this leave us? Me, the only thing I think you could possibly fault the umpire for is the penalty for her breaking the racquet, because
as I said, there is definitely a double standard with that as far as how often the men get penalized for it. However, men do get penalized for
it, and as I said that rule has been enforced subjectively for years and that's not the umpire's fault. None of his calls were inconsistent with the
rules. None of his calls are things that haven't happened to players of other races and gender. The lion's share of the blame is on Williams, in my
opinion. As a professional athlete, you have to have more self-control than this. That's easy for me to say sitting on my couch, but it's also easy
to note players in other sports who have been in similar situations and didn't lose their cool like this. All that happened here was the umpire was
being strict. If you watch other sports, you know that is not unique to tennis or to women's sports. How many times have we seen an umpire in
baseball being a dick about the strike zone, or refs in a football game throwing flags for every little thing? You don't just keep doing the thing
that's gonna get you penalized, or keep taking strikes that you know he's gonna call a strike just because you think it should be a ball. You adjust
your play in recognition of the reality that the game is being officiated strictly and you keep playing. Williams lost her professionalism and
ultimately lost the match. Honestly, she was probably going to lose anyway, but we'll never know for sure.