By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer
Venus and Serena Williams’ return to Indian Wells was supposed to close the book on a controversy that occurred in 2001. They faced a racist incident that was a painful memory for them and a blemish on the tournament. In 2016, Serena hoped to write a new chapter by advancing to the Women’s Singles final where she faced Victoria Azarenka. Their matches had always been close and promised to provide a storybook ending to this new chapter. While the final score did not end in Serena’s favor (Vika won 6-4, 6-4), a new controversy emerged as a result of sexist comments made by Ray Moore, the tournament’s director and CEO. Before the Men’s Singles final, Moore was asked how the men’s (ATP) and women’s tours (WTA) compared. He replied by calling “the WTA a bunch of lucky coattail-ridin’ dummies who have the men to thank for their continued existence” (Redford, 2016, para. 1). But he didn’t stop there, adding, “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have” (Redford, para. 2).
In the press conference following her match, Serena was asked to comment on Moore’s statements. She began by saying, “I think Venus, myself, a number of players have been — if I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister, I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement” (Dator, 2016, para. 4).
Asked further if she was surprised that sexist statements are still brought up, Serena replied: “Yeah, I’m still surprised, especially with me and Venus and all the other women on the tour that’s done well. Last year the women’s final at the US Open sold out well before the men. I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not ” (Dator, 2016, para. 5).
Serena also referred to the history of progress that began with Billie Jean King whose “Battle of the Sexes” victory over Bobby Riggs has been credited with advancing the cause of all women in sport. In fact, Billie Jean also played an integral role in securing equal prize money for women at the U.S. Open in 1973 (D’Cunha, 2016). As Serena pointed out, “in order to make a comment you have to have history and you have to have facts and you have to know things. You have to know of everything. I mean, you look at someone like Billie Jean King who opened so many doors for not only women’s players but women athletes in general” (Dator, 2016, para. 6).
King herself played during the same era as Ray Moore when professional tennis was in its infancy. During that era, the ratio between men’s and women’s earnings was often as disparate as 11:1 (BJ King, personal communication, February 24, 1999). Billie Jean responded to Moore’s comments on Twitter saying she was: “Disappointed in
#RaymondMoore comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”
Chris Kermode, CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men’s professional tennis agreed with King in describing “Ray Moore’s comments towards women’s tennis” as “disappointing” (Rycroft, 2016, para. 5). Adding that the comments were “made in poor taste,” Kermode stated that, “The ATP fully supports equality across society, while at the same time acknowledging that we operate in the sports [and] entertainment business” (Rycroft, 2016, para. 5).
Unfortunately, Kermode’s comments are unlikely to carry as much weight as earlier statements made by the Men’s Singles winner and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who said after winning his match yesterday: “I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more” (D’Cunha, 2016, para. 15). There is an underlying problem with comments by both Moore and Djokovic, as D’Cunha (2016) pointed out, in that they “are indicative of the general disregard for women’s tennis by their male counterparts” (para. 18).
If there is any consolation it is the outpouring of support for women’s tennis that was expressed on Twitter and in other articles. Hopefully, women’s tennis (and all women’s sports) will continue the legacy begun by Billie Jean King, Gladys Heldman, the “Original Nine” and current WTA players. They’re not riding anybody’s coat tails!!
Note: According to reports on Twitter as of March 21, Raymond Moore has resigned as Tournament Director and CEO at Indian Wells. Perhaps, on this 10th anniversary of Twitter, it is fitting that the social media site played a key role in disseminating news of this controversy so quickly.
Dator, J. (2016, March 20). Serena Williams sends powerful message to Indian Wells CEO over sexist comments. SB Nation. Retrieved from http://www.sbnation.com/2016/3/20/11273222/serena-williams-press-conference-sexist-comments-indian-wells-ceo
D’Cunha, Z. (2016, March 21). Raymond Moore, Novak Djokovic, and the blatant disregard for women’s tennis by the men in sport. Firstpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/sports/raymond-moore-novak-djokovics-comments-not-only-sexist-but-also-show-disregard-for-womens-tennis-2688386.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
Redford, P. (2016, March 20). Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore has some bad and dumb thoughts on Women’s Tennis. Deadspin. Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/indian-wells-ceo-raymond-moore-has-some-bad-and-dumb-th-1766048378
Rycroft, R. (2016, March 21). ATP’s Chris Kermode responds to Raymond Moore’s controversial comments on WTA. Sportsgecko.com. Retrieved from http://sportsgecko.com/atps-chris-kermode-responds-to-raymond-moores-controversial-comments-on-wta/