For fans of tennis, this Australian Open Finals weekend may as well have been Christmas morning- Williams vs. Williams and Federer vs. Nadal. Four of the greatest athletes to ever play the game met head-to-head once more in the singles finals to compete for the Women’s and Men’s Singles titles, respectively.
On Friday night, I settled in to watch the Women’s Singles Championship.
Actually, that’s a lie.
The match didn’t start until 12:30 a.m. Pacific time. I’m a dedicated fan, but not quite that dedicated. So I set my trusty DVR to record the historic ninth time Serena Williams will meet her sister Venus in a grand slam singles final.
I did, however, stay up to listen to the pre-match commentary, and, quite frankly, was a little taken aback by what I heard.
The commentators began by giving a recap of the Williams sisters over the years. They flashed pictures across the screen of Venus and Serena competing from early in their teenage years, all the way to the present and highlighted all of the different hair styles they have had.
Do I care about their hair styles? Will they talk about Federer’s and Nadal’s hairstyles? Maybe. But my guess is probably not.
Now, to be fair, this is no where near the 2015 Australian Open snafu where a male reporter infamously asked Eugenie Bouchard, the 7th ranked women’s singles player in the world at a time, to “give us a twirl” after her second-round victory.
A twirl? Is this a beauty pageant?
Needless to say, that remark was widely criticized across the globe as being “sexist.”
Now commenting about the Williams sisters’ hair styles is not the same as the Bouchard incident. Yet, it’s these daily, seemingly innocuous, remarks that help perpetuate the double standard and sexist culture the exists not just in tennis, but in most sports.
Serena Williams has been a powerful voice in the industry, fighting for equal prize money and respect for female tennis players. Though she has made great strides in the sport, there are still daily battles to be fought, as these commentating remarks show.
The commentators went on to describe Serena as “one of the greatest female tennis players of all time.” Now I don’t think they meant to make that slip, as there has been a lot of criticism of late over calling Serena a great female tennis player (most of it by Serena herself), but this just goes to show how easy it is to make these slips.
Finally, the commentators came to my favorite [read “worst”] remark of the pre-match show. While talking about the Williams sisters’ careers, female commentator Chris McKendry, claimed that the only other siblings who come to mind to compare them to are the Manning brothers.
The Manning brothers?
Perhaps Venus and Serena should be flattered that they are being held on the same level as two great male football players. But how is this a like comparison?
Peyton and Eli Manning play a team sport, and, furthermore, they are both quarterbacks. They will never be on the same field at the same time. They will never compete one-on-one against the one person who might know more about their game than they do. They will never face each other on the field as enemies, and then return hours later to compete on the same team (Venus and Serena also have fourteen Grand Slam doubles titles together).
Is this the best comparison the Australian Open commentators can come up with? A comparison in which the only similarity is that the two pairs are siblings who play the same sport?
Does everything have to come back to football to be viewed as relevant in the sporting world?
Well, maybe it does.
Serena’s and Venus’ match happened to fall on the same day that Baylor, a Christian university, announced a lawsuit against them that alleges over fifty-two rapes have been committed by over thirty football players over the last four years.
That is a shocking number. And sadly, that number is probably lower than actual number, as most rapes go unreported.
Baylor has been discovered to have an institutionalized sports culture that condones showing possible football recruits a “good ole time.” Apparently, these players interpreted “good ole time” to mean a ” good ole rape.”
Again, I’m not saying that any of the comments towards Venus and Serena on Friday night were anything close to this horror, but they did reveal that inherent, everyday sexism is still around, even in the slightest of forms. We’ve come a long way, and most people would probably agree that Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, male or female. But, there’s always more work to be done.
If we don’t take note of what may seem to be the smallest of comments, we start to think they’re normal and okay, and then one day we wake up to fifty-two rapes by college football players and a pussy-grabbing president.