Serena Williams and the US Open Final

Selective rule enforcement is a form of oppression. Period.

When I saw Carlos Ramos give Serena Williams a coaching violation in yesterday’s US Open final, I thought it was an odd call. When Mary Jo Fernández and Chrissie Evert said coaches coach all the time and a violation is never called, I knew I was watching oppression at work. To further support the racism and sexism inherent in Ramos’s call, he’s also given a coaching violation to, you guessed it, Venus Williams.

Before I get into this, I want to say as someone who played tennis in high school and comes from a family of tennis players, I think this rule is ridiculous. During basketball and football games, the players receive coaching, which I think raises the level of play. So why can’t players receive coaching in tennis?

Now, back to this match. Serena couldn’t see the hand signals her coach was giving her because she was at the other end of the court. He made a hand gesture suggesting she should move into the net, presumably because Naomi Osaka isn’t comfortable at the net. Because Serena was so far away from him and his hands were down low, she thought he was giving her a thumbs-up. Given that Serena didn’t receive any coaching because she couldn’t see Patrick Mouratoglou’s hands and that she can’t control another person, she shouldn’t have been penalized for his actions.

Serena was given a second code violation for breaking her racket. Again, another stupid and archaic rule that should have been removed from the books years ago. Serena was angry and frustrated with herself for playing poorly, she displayed these emotions by breaking her racket. She’s a human being, she’s allowed to show emotion. No one got hurt, I don’t see the problem.

Because this is her second code violation, a point is given to Osaka. Because Serena discussed with the chair umpire that she doesn’t receive coaching during matches, and he seemed to understand where she was coming from, I think she thought he removed the coaching violation. If she had understood that he hadn’t, she might not have broken her racket.

When Serena sees that she has lost a point, she tells the umpire that he attacked her character, by implying she was cheating by receiving coaching during the match, and that he owed her an apology, which she repeated several times. When she gets up to go back onto the court, Serena tells the umpire he’s a thief because he stole a point from her.

At this point, the chair umpire decided to sexistly and racistly exert his power by giving Serena a third code violation for which the penalty is a game is given to your opponent. Now, many of us know MANY male players have cursed at chair umpires and have never been given code violations for it. In fact, they’ve been warned that if they continue, they will be given a verbal abuse code violation. Serena wasn’t given this courtesy.

Here, you may be thinking, How can Carlos Ramos act in a racist manner towards Serena? He’s not white. For those of you that don’t know, there are MANY people of color who subscribe to anti-Black racism. Some do it because they want to be considered American and to be American, as many before me have said, is to be anti-Black.

After she’s given the third violation, Serena goes to get the referee. At this point, as an attorney, I’m thinking the referee is going to go get the rule book and look up what constitutes verbal abuse and use that definition to determine if Ramos’s call was appropriate. That is not what happened. The referee appeared to side with Ramos almost automatically.

At this point the score is 6-2, 4-3 in favor of Osaka. So by giving Osaka a game, she is now within one game of winning the championship. As a lover of sport, and tennis in particular, I believe giving this penalty at this point in the match took something away from the competition between these two incredible players.

Osaka, as we all know, beat Serena, and she likely would have even if she hadn’t been given a point and a game. But as a competitive athlete, Naomi Osaka will likely always wonder if she could’ve beaten Serena without that added game and point. I don’t think the first Japanese tennis player, female or male, to win a Grand Slam singles tournament should have to feel this way. So in attempting to oppress Serena Williams, Carlos Ramos also oppressed Naomi Osaka and tainted her first Grand Slam title.

The ending to yesterday’s Women’s Final is so incredibly tragic because it serves as a reminder to all Black women what happens when someone who has power over you, temporary though it may be, feels you’ve stepped out of line/don’t know your place. What Carlos Ramos did reminded me of all the times supervisors have chastised me, in front of other people no less, for being mean when critiquing the work of others. Meanwhile, white men have been downright cruel in their critiques and were never reprimanded. It reminded me of all the times people in power decided when it came to me, fairness to others was the most important guideline to be followed, but this guideline was never applied to my white counterparts.

It’s also tragic because even though Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time, so many in the tennis world see her Black, curvaceous body and think, You’re not a thin, white woman who comes from money. You don’t belong here.

Going back to Serena letting the chair umpire know he owed her an apology, I didn’t realize how powerful this was until Brittany Packnett tweeted about it today: “The most amazing thing about @serenawilliams demanding the apology she deserves is all the times black women have been owed apologies and we don’t even bother asking. My mind is literally recalling all the apologies I’ve been owed and never received and I’m…floored.”

When I thought about all the apologies I’m owed, mostly from white people, I felt another wave of pain move through my body as I realized just how unjustly I’ve been treated in my life. I could email these people and inform them they owe me an apology, but ever since my grandmother died, apologies mean very little to me. But, the next time someone wrongs me, I will be saying, in the moment, “You owe me an apology.”

Because there’s just SO much power in that. So much power in knowing you’re worthy and valuable and deserve to be treated with respect. And I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon.

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