“Hormones” have nothing to do with it.
This weekend’s BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament saw a stunning upset of #1 ranked Serena Williams in the championship match. But the most compelling action may have happened off the court, when two high-profile tennis personalities served a few sexist comments in post-match interviews.
The controversy started when tournament CEO Raymond Moore said female players in the Women’s Tennis Association “ride on the coattails of the men.” He followed up by suggesting that women should “go down every night on [their] knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”
His recommendations were understandably met by anger from female tennis players, most notably Williams, arguably the greatest woman to ever play the game, who fired back that women “shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”
“I think Venus, myself, a number of players—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,” she added.
Moore has since issued an official apology for his “erroneous” comments that were in “poor taste.” But Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s player, who won on the men’s finals this weekend, added more fuel to the fire, saying that men should “fight for more” money because their matches have more spectators that those played by women.
To be fair, Djokovic did say that women should “absolutely” be paid more if ladies’ tennis became more popular and lucrative than the game on the men’s side. He also backtracked by, somewhat bizarrely, acknowledging that women who play the game face unique challenges in the form of “hormones and different stuff.”
The battle over equal pay in sports has been waged for years, and tennis is one of the few spheres in which women have won clear victories. Tennis icon Billie Jean King created the WTA in 1973 to advocate for equal pay; that same year, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to men and women. After years of outcry from female champions like Chris Evert and Maria Sharapova, in 2007 Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam tournament to offer the same prize purse to male and female players.
What Djokovic and Moore’s comments reveal, however, is that there is still a lot of ignorance about how the rise of female stars from Martina Navratilova to Steffi Graff to Kim Clijsters has helped make women’s tennis equally—and at times, more—popular than the men’s sport. While men’s tennis has historically been more watched than the women’s game, that dynamic is rapidly shifting—and as such, female contributions to the game should be compensated equally to those of men. […]