Institutional Prejudice on Display at Wimbledon
The fallout from Serena Williams’ loss to Naomi Osaka at Wimbledon has been immense.
Williams—perhaps the most famous and celebrated female athlete today—received a string of debilitating penalties from umpire Carlos Ramos, culminating in the loss of an entire game. The conflict began with a questionable ruling regarding alleged hand signals from Williams’ coach, who merely gave a thumbs up after a point. This sort of call virtually never happens in men’s tennis. Understandably, Williams became upset, and eventually called Ramos a “thief.”
Critics of Williams have argued that the umpire’s calls had nothing to do with racism or sexism, and they instead blame the player for losing her cool. Ironically, within days, News Crop released a revolting cartoon that used racist and sexist tropes to depict Williams as angry and entitled. People can deny reality all they want, but this cartoon lays bare the bigotry at the heart of the matter.
Sports bring out intense emotions. Videos began circulating online following the match showing scores of famous male players having meltdowns on the court, many of which make Williams’ behavior look positively benign by comparison. What counts as “passion” for men, however, is considered reproachable behavior for a woman of color.
This is a deeply institutional problem. Women are severely underrepresented among umpires, and the lack of diversity in the upper echelons of Wimbledon and professional tennis result in entrenched prejudices that end up negatively impacting players like Williams.
Whether or not Williams’ actions were completely justified is besides the point. The treatment she received was evidence of a double standard. Like all institutions, the organizers at Wimbledon have an obligation to find meaningful solutions to prevent unfair officiating of this sort from happening again.