Just last week, Serena Williams’ confrontation with umpire Carlos Ramos during the U.S. Open marked a resurgence of the decades-old debate surrounding sexism in sports.
Williams’ loss to 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, brought on through a coaching violation, created a social media uproar that was immediately divisive.
Many were quick to criticize Williams’ behavior towards the umpire, where she exclaimed comments such as: “You will never ever, ever be in another final. You are a liar.”
Others quickly took to Williams’ side, claiming that she received penalization on an unfair call and that her reactions were less extreme than many male tennis players have displayed in the past.
Williams’ argument that she received unfair treatment due to her gender quickly became the center of the debate, as she asserted, “To lose a game for saying that, it’s not fair. How many other men do things? There’s a lot of men out here who have said a lot of things. It’s because I am a woman, and that’s not right.”
Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, this debate on sexism in sports is far from new. A recent panel of experts at Harvard discussed this inequity, explaining how the large gap between men’s and women’s sports continues to be perpetuated by the media.
The female sports world continues to be dominated by stories of individual superstars, such as Williams and Maria Sharapova, rather than team efforts. The popularity of women’s sports is also often restricted to Olympians, with gymnastics consistently ranked as a “most-watched” sports at the games.
While women’s sports popularity continues to be limited to so-called “phenoms,” these athletes are consistently subject to harsh criticism based on appearance. Male athletes receive praise for “freak-like” physiques, as opposed to female athletes who often receive negative commentary for being “too muscular.”
Popular sports media outlets are sources of some of the most blatant disparities between men’s and women’s sports. For example, while 25 percent of ESPN’s viewership is female, only 8 percent of their coverage is of women’s sports. On popular programs like SportsCenter, women’s sports receive a mere 2 percent of airtime. Much of this coverage has decreased over the past decade.
The sexist tendencies of the sports world impact even the most successful of female athletes. Although Williams’ actions during the U.S. Open are subject to multiple interpretations, unequal treatment of athletes is a prominent issue not only in the media, but in society.
Although there have been many victories in the women’s sports world, they do not get enough well-deserved attention. Recently, with Mo’ne Davis pitching in the Little League World Series in 2014 and the triumph of ‘The Final Five’ in women’s gymnastics in 2016, we must raise ourselves to higher standards in women’s sports in pursuit of equal opportunities for all.