Wednesday 21 November 2018

Ewan MacKenna: Forget women's rights - all that Serena was campaigning for at the US Open is special treatment

Serena Williams shouts at umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open women’s final against Naomi Osaka. Photo: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS
Serena Williams shouts at umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open women’s final against Naomi Osaka. Photo: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

Once upon a time there was a girl called Serena Williams, and like any kid she wanted to be treated just like the rest.

The problem was that she was a black female in an establishment sport where many women have been happy to make their money from being the blonde girl-next-door pin-ups.

Playing with her sister Venus at just five in Los Angeles, not yet old enough to know about colour, watchers-on started calling them Blackie One and Blackie Two for no other reason than that colour. Still making it in this sphere, she drew looks all the way up. And when reaching the top table, and only a teen, she wandered onto the court to hear 'n**ger' muttering around Indian Wells.

It was a brutal and gripping narrative, that many struggle to let go of. But they need to, for it's not the true narrative anymore.

This is an age of -isms and that can be both a good and a bad thing. These are powerful and delicate words that ought not to be spat out as idle gossip, for that is to demean and diminish their huge importance. However they also allow for false crusades which is easier than any apology. Williams has dragged them into that realm, and this weekend was the perfect example. Pulled up for breaking the rules, she couldn't accept she was wrong, and proceeded to hijack a major issue, trivialising it to protect herself. Yet in a time of celebrity worship, to the baying masses it doesn't matter that all the facts and evidence are against her, all that matters is she's famous.

There's something tragic in that.

A problem here is most people don't know much about women's tennis, and we know this because dwindling numbers and interest have hurt the sport financially. It's on the ropes, clinging to her name and therefore indulging her ego.

Take a couple of examples and don't consider her actions as allegations, but as mere statement of recorded history.

Back in 2010 and 2011, across a period where she picked up two of her Grand Slams, she wasn't actually tested once but then in October of 2011, when testers finally came to her house, she claims to have fled and locked herself in the panic room thinking it was a robbery.

No test was subsequently conducted. Meanwhile just this year another tester showed to Williams' home in Florida unannounced and was shown in by an assistant. She wasn't there but the tester refused to leave until they got what they came for. But as in 2011, the test never took place and after that incident she called the head of the WTA Steve Simon, and moaned about unfair targeting.

Now consider her sport's reaction to all that. Silence from those in the boardroom down to the circus below.

For those on the outside though, there was a moment on Saturday that was quite remarkable, and that was somehow passed over. We can understand the in-game rant where she lost control as defeat and age and frustration all came together - granted her line that 'you will never, ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live' was telling.

However, afterwards in the press conference she was asked if she had any regrets given her claims she wasn't coached from the stands had been proven wrong.

The 36-year-old was caught cold and in quite a panic reached for any shield. "I'm out here fighting for... women's rights," she blurted out. The see-through nature of this claim was obvious when she added, "and all kinds of stuff". Now she cannot let it go.

In her world, there is an endless list of sad and sorry issues to use as a focal point for a campaign. Some have pertained directly to her such as the treatment at the French Open over attire, meanwhile already this US Open there was the warning Alize Cornet received for changing a top. But neither would have helped Williams or justified her abuse. And yet at that same press conference there was an embarrassing round of applause for her desperation, and what followed was all jumping on her pseudo-cause around women's rights.

Toni Van Pelt, president of America's National Organisation for Women penned a letter suggesting umpire Carlos Ramos be sacked, a guy who did his job perfectly and for it got $633. Billie Jean King of course wasted no time in rowing in. Former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland added her voice for some reason. Anna Kesell in The Guardian noted that, "Significantly, the attacks on Williams have been personal, her career-long professionalism and suitability as a role model called into question".

Christine Brennan of USA Today asked if Williams was punished for breaking rules due to being a woman, over race, once wearing a cat suit, being a mother, or not being dainty? And then came the aforementioned Steve Simon putting player above the rules, undermining his organisation again.

Sometimes you close your eyes and imagine hands big enough to grab this globe and to shake it.

This is the mother of all smokescreens that has shown up a massive cowardice and an agenda-over-facts bias in the media, particularly in the United States. Just as Donald Trump knows he could kill someone and still get the votes, Williams knows she can spoof and still get support. But let's strip back this fatty emotion and get to the bones of the truth about what went down.

Firstly Williams was given a violation call and a warning due to being coached from the stands. This is as per the rule, and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou admitted to it. Then she got pulled up for racket abuse, smashing hers with the call again right as it cost her a point. And finally on her third warning, she had a game given against her, as this time the offence was abuse of the umpire as she felt the first warning should have been retracted although this never happens, while proceeding to call Ramos a thief and demand an apology.

To avoid this truth though, those who are in a rush to call foul based on sex would be better reading before talking. Did they know for instance that this umpire is a stickler for rules? That at the French Open at the start of the summer he gave both Marco Cecchinato and Novak Djokovic a warning for coaching from the stands? That Djokovic had a run-in with him at Wimbledon after being penalised for throwing his racket? That at the Olympics in 2016, Andy Murray got a warning for calling him stupid? The same three warnings she got.

There are any amount of other instances of consistency, from Rafael Nadal stripped of a serve for taking too long, to Nick Kyrgios given a code violation for shouting at a ball boy. In fact her own sister too had a run-in in 2016 for coaching from the stands, retorting "I’m 36 years old. I play fair".

It seems some traits run in the family. But do those kicking and screaming over Serena ever care about any of this now they've got their latest outrage and are running with it?

Ultimately what people are trying to claim is that in a match between two women, an umpire enforcing the rules as he has done for both sexes across his career, is sexism? Would not enforcing the rules, given it would have hurt Naomi Osaka, a women, have been sexist? And if Williams wants equal treatment, should she not instead have highlighted how lightly she got off given last year Fabio Fognini was thrown out of the US Open and fined $96,000 for shouting at a female umpire?

Then again, that's really the crux of this that nobody wants to go near. Calling out hypocrisy and deceit and nonsense shouldn't be decided by colour or sex. Yet many are being selective on such a basis, engaging in what they claim to be trying to get rid of. If only they'd stand back and drill down and ask some vital questions.

Was she fighting for women's rights at the 2009 US Open when she told a female line-judge that, "I swear to God, I'll f**king take the ball and shove it down your f**king throat"?

Was she fighting for women's rights when initially refusing to say sorry after that, instead stating: "An apology from me? How many people yell at lines-people? I see it happening all the time. I don't know how many times I have seen that happen. I am a professional. I'm not the beggar, like, 'Please, please, please, let me have another chance,' because it was the rules and I play by the rules."

Was she fighting for women's rights when telling a female umpire she was "unattractive inside"?

Was she fighting for women's rights when she took away the biggest moment of Naomi Osaka's career and has continued to do so?

Of course not, she was fighting for her own interests no matter who or what got in the way. Including the rules.

Once upon a time there was a girl called Serena Williams, and like any kid she wanted to be treated just like the rest. Now a woman though, she rages against not being afforded special treatment.

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