The 2018 US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka will be remembered for Williams’s argument with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
A UT faculty member suggests that it may also be important as journalists and the public consider sports as a platform for discussing important social issues.
During the second set of the tennis championship, Ramos warned Williams for receiving coaching from the sideline, an allegation Williams contested before continuing to play. After Williams broke her racket in the set, Ramos called her for two more offenses—racket abuse and abuse of an official/umpire—which ultimately lost her a point, then the game.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’s coach, said during an interview with ESPN that he was coaching her from the stands—which, he contends, is common for professional tennis coaches to do. But he also said he doesn’t think Williams saw him.
The whole controversy sparked a conversation about the treatment of women—and specifically women of color—in sport.
“Serena Williams has occupied a complicated place within tennis,” said Erin Whiteside, a UT professor of journalism and electronic media who studies the relationship between sports media and culture. “She is a black woman competing in a predominantly white sport that has, like most sports, historically highlighted its male athletes while treating women as secondary figures. She has experienced a form of gendered racism throughout her career, in which media coverage and popular discourse have functioned to police her body and beliefs.”
Williams entered the US Open aiming to win her 24th Grand Slam singles tournament, which would have tied the all-time record. However, the player’s reaction may be remembered more than Osaka becoming the first Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam.
“As sports journalists continue to consider the social significance of what happened, this story will be an important one for educating the public on how sexism and racism intersect in significant ways,” Whiteside said. “Sports are a highly visible platform for the communication of social norms, and the Serena Williams story, I think, will play a role in contributing to how we understand these issues.”
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