Tanya Lee | I stand by you, Serena
Dear Serena, I wanted to write this letter to you because you had a tough day at work last Saturday and you were penalised a game in the US open final. I watch sports a lot, and I've seen numerous heated exchanges between referees, umpires, and players. The reaction of male players to officiating decisions is rarely the subject of headlines. It is seen as a normal part of the game.
As it relates to the game penalty that the umpire imposed, I do feel you were within your rights to voice your disapproval. I've seen Andy Murray call that same umpire stupid, with no penalty. I've seen Rafael Nadal threaten that umpire, with no penalty. Novak Djokovic told him he was crap, with no penalty. And I've seen Nick Kyrgios aim expletives at him with no penalty. In fact, never before had I seen a player penalised a game in such a high-stake final.
As you know, Serena, gender discrimination plagues all women, even the world's greatest athlete. It is so deeply entrenched that both the United Nations and the World Economic Forum state that we are more than 100 years away from achieving gender parity. This is because, quoting the United Nations, "Discrimination against women exists, directly and indirectly, through the enforcement of laws, gender-based stereotypes, and social norms and practices".
The politics of discrimination is so deeply ingrained and often unrecognised by the unsuspecting. You know, in much the same way that racial discrimination escapes the understanding of many who aren't black.
I saw that you were accused of being 'hysterical' and 'emotional', terms often used in the workplace to describe and degrade a woman's reaction. A male with the same reaction is often just 'handling things'. I suppose girls are 'sugar and spice and everything nice' like that nursery rhyme. The double standard exhibited is a denial of every woman's fundamental right to gender equality.
Serena, you have been discriminated against repeatedly. You possess the triple whammy of being black, Compton-bred-and female. You have thus endured the burden of facing racism, classism, and sexism in a patriarchal, elitist sport.
You were discriminated against when spectators shouted racial slurs and told you to go back to Compton. You were discriminated against each time someone made a demeaning remark about your athletic body in an attempt to strip you of your femininity. You were discriminated against when the head of the Russian Tennis Federation called you and Venus "The Williams brothers". You were discriminated against when you brought more eyes to the game of tennis than many of your male counterparts, but you still received lower earnings. And you were discriminated against when the head of the Indian Wells suggested that female players were riding on the "coattails of men".
We feel the weight of the discrimination on your shoulders each time you are drug tested, five times more than the other champions on the last count. That's why we cheer so loudly each time you win. In those short-lived moments, it feels like a victory for all women.
As the only player in tennis history, male or female, to complete the golden career slam after 30 years of age, and the first player, male or female, to win 80-plus matches in three of the four grand slam events, you now stand alone as the greatest. It's just a shame that you languish at fourth in career earnings, behind Roger Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Serena, we know your reaction was justified, and thus we stand with you.
We are proud that you are now the standard for little black girls like Naomi Osaka, who know that they can win tennis grand slam titles. You and Venus have made your fans proud. Take a bow, and keep going. The 24th grand slam win will be epic!
- Tanya Lee is a Caribbean sports marketer, author, and publicist. Follow her @tanyattlee on Instagram.