After Emotional Outburst, NYT Rules for Tennis Star Serena Williams, Victim of Umpire 'Sexism'

September 10th, 2018 12:39 PM

The New York Times picked sides in a sporting event on Saturday -- a conflict between top women’s tennis player Serena Williams and officiating umpire Carlos Ramos, who she tangled with during an enduring emotional on-court meltdown during her losing match against Naomi Osaka. Ramos eventually penalized Williams a full game in the controversial finals of the U.S. Open. How did the paper treat the conflict? The Times accused the umpire who ruled against one female player, in her match against another female player, of...sexism?

Sportswriter Ben Rothenberg reported in Sunday’s edition “Williams, Seeking 24th Major, Is Undone in a Swirl of Emotion.”

In the middle of her United States Open final against Naomi Osaka at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, with a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title on the line, Serena Williams was standing on the court calling the chair umpire a thief.


Within minutes, instead of trading blazing ground strokes with Osaka, a 20-year-old born in Japan who grew up idolizing her, Williams was having a heated conversation with the tournament referee. “There are men out here that do a lot worse,” she said, “but because I’m a woman, because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me? That is not right.”

While tennis fans on social media seems tilted against Williams and her outburst (or tantrum, or meltdown), some big name tennis players came out in her defense, or at least against umpires.

The Times, which this year hired a “gender editor,” saturated its take with accusations of “sexism.”

This was not the first time in this year’s tournament that officials had been called sexist. The French player Alizé Cornet received an unsportsmanlike-conduct warning for taking off her top on court after she had inadvertently put it on backward; the Open changed that rule the next day after outrage over the episode.

Williams’s assertion that female players are policed more than male players is difficult to prove. At this year’s Open, men have received 23 fines for code violations, compared with nine for women.

Judging by those numbers, another word the Times could have used for “difficult to prove” would have been “wrong.” Also notice that Williams doesn’t get called a brat, but a famous retired male player does:

Most of the sport’s infamous brats have been men, and they have often been punished for bad behavior. John McEnroe, the best-known instigator, was frequently assessed point and game penalties during his career....

Rothenberg eventually addressed Williams’ “history of controversy at the tournament,” including threatening to shove a tennis ball down the throat of an Asian lineswoman. Shino Tsurubuchi.

A follow-up by Melissa Gomez leaned even further into the liberal social justice narrative, with the multi-millionaire Williams a victim of sexism.

Reactions on social media largely focused on the umpire, Carlos Ramos, for penalizing Williams for behavior that critics said would ordinarily result in just a warning for other players....On Twitter, some people pointed out that the treatment of Williams as a woman, particularly a woman of color, was especially egregious....Sally Jenkins, in her column in The Washington Post on Sunday, wrote, “Ramos took what began as a minor infraction and turned it into one of the nastiest and most emotional controversies in the history of tennis, all because he couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.” There were some who criticized Williams for the way she reacted, going as far as calling it a “meltdown.” Others on Twitter hailed Williams for her strength and courage.

Sportswriter Juliet Macur dissented in part in her analysis, “The Wrong Time to Make the Right Point,” on the front of Monday’s Sports section.

Christopher Clarey’s Monday report, “Umpire in Williams Spat Is Known for His Rigor,” featured a text box harsher than his actual story -- “Players and fans see a bias in an official’s calls against women.” But wouldn't a woman win a women's tennis match either way?

Freddy Grey at The Spectator had a less worshipful view of Williams’ behavior:

Serena Williams’s epic tantrum in last night’s US open final wasn’t a noble stand against racism or sexism....Williams behaved like a bad loser then pretended to be a victim of societal injustice to justify her bratty performance. It was a pathetic and depressing spectacle.... Tennis is a sport that has rules. She broke them, was punished, and lost.