Whether it is about policies or players, sports get to be an ever evolving space where we find ourselves discussing the issue of whether we should let a star player be held to more “normal” standards than what they have set for themselves in the past.
We are of course, referring to Serena Williams.
Despite having made her way to the US Open quarterfinals quite recently, Williams’ fans found her providing justifications on how her drop of a set was not due to her level going down by a great margin, but due to the difference of only a couple of points.
The explanation, while not unprecedented, seems odd when it has to come from a player of Williams’ stature, who is clearly getting back to form after the birth of her daughter, Olympia, who turned one this August.
Williams made her return to the world of tennis in June 2018 via the French Open, her first Grand Slam of 2018. However, she had to pull out citing a pec injury amidst yet another appropriate comment on her looks, this time by a journalist.
Since then, she has made quite an improvement in getting back to her previous form in the court, and her recent performance is a testament to that. However, the way that she has to justify slipping up in a set by a couple of points makes one wonder: when was the last time a star player had to provide such an explanation?
How Sexism in Sports Affects Star Players
While the examples of sexism in sports are aplenty, we chose Williams because she has been the focal point of such treatment ever since she came to the limelight with her impeccable skill – which still did not stop a few people from commenting on her appearance, with even the aforementioned French Open banning her from wearing a catsuit that was previously worn by her for medical reasons.
But throughout such incidents, the support for Williams has been significant through the media and her fan base. However, while that serves as her support system, it leaves many female players to be subjected to the same behavior without having the same source of finding solace. In their case, the behavior is more constricting since they do not have the same level of fame that Williams has achieved for herself, and do not think that they have the support that they need from relevant authorities.
According to a study performed in 2015, 40% of elite sportswomen confirmed their encounter with sexism in the field, with 43% also sharing that they do not think their government body supports them as much as they do their male counterparts.
While the study only focused on players from Great Britain, a recent incident at the 2018 US Open sparked yet another debate on how female players are treated differently than male players. In said situation, French player Alizé Cornet was issued a warning for changing her shirt by the end of the court, while male players did the same without any corrective action.
The sexism gets to be more apparent when you take the ever widening pay gap into question, where Williams, once again, made headlines in 2017 by being the only female player among the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes. No other woman came close to making the list, which hinted at the larger issue of different behaviors within the same industry.
Who is to Be Blamed? Is There a Solution?
While some put the blame directly on authorities, said entities actually turn back and take a shot at the fans who clearly support sports with more male players in them than ones where female players have an opportunity - with tennis being the only major sporting event that lets male and female players participate in the same matches.
This makes sense to some extent of the pay gap due to how male association football and American football rule the international and US national space, respectively; however, it still does not define the apparent sexism exhibited by authorities, media and even the general public.
Needless to say, this calls for a social reform on multiple levels, implementing which will be easier said than done. However, what we can do on individual levels is to look at both female and male players with a gaze that does not differentiate between them except for the sports they play and how they play it amongst their counterparts.
Only by removing the dated identifier of gender from our judgment could we achieve a level of equality in this space – which is the least we could all do. After all, the idea of sports was conceived on the basis of recreation for the human race, not for a single gender identity.