SEXISM 101: Men’s Tennis Could Learn Something From U.S. Soccer
Sexism in sports is nothing new, but fortunately the ability to call people out for being purposefully ignorant is. Thank you, internet!
The latest old, white man to express his outdated, sexist views regarding female athletes is Raymond Moore, CEO of Indian Wells, who had this to say in regards to women's tennis:
"In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don't make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky...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."
It's always a joy to be reminded that even in a world where Serena Williams is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, there are men who actually believe that their sport would benefit from a little gratitude and humility from the "lady players." Also, solid use of 1950's terminology for female athletes buddy. It's reassuring that your grasp on the culture and evolution of modern sports hasn't matured for decades.
It's also completely bullshit that he goes on to name actual players. It creates a narrative in which Federer and Nadal are pitted against female stars like Williams rather than tell the whole story; which is that there is a whole group of male and female superstars who are - together - keeping tennis relevant internationally.
That leads to the next point which is that now of course, every famous tennis player is being asked about Moore's comments. I'm generally not a fan of picking apart the statements of players that do not speak English as their primary language, as there have been countless instances in which their remarks are taken out of context, misunderstood, or they themselves have misinterpreted the question.
Nevertheless, Djokavic's follow-up to Moore's comments is indicative of a much larger issue that he and many other male athletes are partially responsible for.
"Equal prize money was the main subject of the tennis world in the last seven, eight years. I have been through that process as well, so I understand how much power and energy WTA and all the advocates for equal prize money have invested in order to reach that. I applaud them for that. I honestly do. They fought for what they deserve, and they got it. On the other hand, 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."
Here's the problem: Djokavic is one of many male tennis players that've been spoon fed the idea that tennis is a male-dominated arena in which females occasionally thrive. That's just not the case.
It's been a very long time since Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova's legendary rivalry captured the attention of fans worldwide. It's been just as long since Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. In fact, women have been competing at Wimbledon since the 1880's. Historically, tennis has been incredibly progressive as far as providing female athletes an arena in which to compete.
That doesn't mean that sexism and inequality haven't existed within that space because they most certainly have. Still, it stands out as much more female-friendly than many other sports have; which is why it's such a shame that male stars don't see the inherent value of their fellow female stars to the sport of tennis as a whole.
And it's especially frustrating considering that there is precedent set for what can happen when male players praise, encourage and admire the greatness of their female counterparts; that being the precedent that has been set by United States soccer.
Popularity of soccer in the United States has grown significantly over the last few years as television rights and international success has drawn more fans and viewers to the sport. But the fact of the matter is that before the Tim Howards and Landon Donovans and Clint Dempseys of the world were excelling in the MLS and European leagues, there were the dominant women of the 1990's U.S. national teams. They were as good as any women in the world despite the fact that soccer itself was barely on the radar of the average American sports fan.
Soccer fans have known for two decades that in the United States, it's the women - not the men - who are the most successful athletes on the world stage. The NWSL may not have the success of the MLS, but because of their dominance in international competition the men have had to acknowledge the important role that women have played and continue to play in advancing American interest in soccer. And with their encouragement, they have brought countless male fans to the women's game.
They can't dismiss female players as riding any coattails, because the men's league and even national team ratings owe a decent amount of their domestic success to the international accomplishments of the American women. It's a situation that is incredibly unique, and it is happening in the most popular sport in the world. And that that could be the same for tennis, whose female stars are as marketable and successful on a global scale as the men are. Not many sports have included women for as long as tennis has, and that should be something that can appeal to both fervent and fringe fans.
So let's bring this idea back around to ratings and viewership. The 2015 Women's World Cup Final was the most watched soccer game in United States history with 26.7 million viewers. According to Business Insider, that was the 26th most-viewed sporting event on U.S. television in 2015; which might not sound that great until you realize that the only sports on the list to exceed that viewership were the NFL, college basketball and college football.
No MLB. No NBA. No NHL. No golf. No tennis. No NASCAR. More people watched women play soccer that day than tuned in to the Daytona 500 or the Kentucky Derby or any single game of the World Series or NBA Finals. So it's not just a situation in which women prevailed in the ratings over men in their own sport; they prevailed over just about every other major sporting event in the country last year.
Here are some assorted tweets from five of the United States' biggest male soccer stars during the USWNT's World Cup run. I'll let you decide for yourself if you can imagine any of these guys getting in front of the media and talking about how much more money they should be earning because of ratings.
Now imagine if there were this type of cross-gender support between male and female tennis stars. It's hard to argue that a culture of mutual respect and appreciation wouldn't be an effective unifier in a sport like tennis; which has current and former icons of both genders who have been equally important its legacy.
Tennis is not a man's game. It hasn't been for an extremely long time, and female players are never going to stop fighting for their equality. It may finally be time for men in tennis to realize that encouraging female players rather than viewing them as unworthy competition could be good for everyone's ratings...and for the game they claim to love.
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