“Boys Will be Boys,” an Excuse No Longer? Part 1
In this two-part series, we explore the double-standards female athletes face in punishment and media response of outburts during competition:
Profanity hurts. Literally.
Especially for the Grand Slam Champion of twenty-three titles, Serena Williams, who unleashed her frustration and anger at a line umpire during her semifinal in the 2009 U.S. Open.
With an extensive use of the f-word, she bellowed, "I swear to God I'm [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat, you hear that? I swear to God."
This scene occurred right before the line umpire called a foot fault during her second serve. Upon hearing these words, the line umpire rushed to inform the chair umpire of what was believed to be a death threat.
“I didn’t say I would kill you,” Williams said during a called conference with the chair umpire and tournament referee.
Whether or not Williams intended to threaten the line umpire’s life, she did violate the code of conduct, and that indirectly caused her to lose the semifinal.
According to the 2009 Official Grand Slam Rule Book, “players shall at all times conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner and give due regard to the authority of officials and the rights of opponents, spectators and others.” In addition, “if such violation occurs during a match (including the warm-up), the player shall be penalized in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth.”
After Williams vehemently appealed the call, she received a $10,000 fine. She responded, calling the fine “definitely sexist.”
“I mean, the very next day Roger Federer did the same thing I did and got fined 1,500 bucks,” she said. “Are you kidding me? Come on."
If Williams was, in fact, a victim of discrimination based on gender, then so were Victoria Azarenka, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Elizabeth Lambert.
Eight days into the 2011 Australian Open and nineteen men had been fined a total of $20,500. Three women were fined a total of $11,000. Fabio Fognini was fined $3,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Mattek-Sands was fined $7,500 for the same violation.
At the 2010 Helsinki Challenger, Grigor Dimitrov allegedly pushed a referee with his own two hands. His actions were much more provocative Williams’ threat to feed a ball to a line umpire, yet he only received a fine of 2k Euros (about $2,627.09) and a threat of suspension.
This raises numerous questions: is it fair to expect women athletes to display superior morals and ethics? Are women penalized to a greater extent when they violate the code of conduct? How do these double standards affect women in sports?
The sports section of the New York Times is plastered with men’s sports. ESPN? Men. Sports Illustrated? Men. In fact, since its founding 58 years ago, a woman has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated sixty-six times, as of July 2011, out of over 2,800 covers, not including swimsuit issues.
It is rare for women to make the headlines, but most of the time when they do, it is to publicize their outbursts or outfits.
Unsportsmanlike conduct is more common among men’s sports and this hold true even on the collegiate level. NJCAA data shows that out of the 101 ejections in all women’s sports, 37 were considered “violent.” Men’s sports totaled a number of 648 ejections with 177 being “violent.”
In 2010, Elizabeth Lambert, a soccer player from the University of New Mexico, punched an opponent in the back, kicked a player in the face and aggressively dragged her opponent to the ground by her ponytail, during a match against Brigham Young University. Lambert was indefinitely banned from competition.
The video of the incident went viral, and once again, the question of double standards in regard to aggressiveness was amid the nation.
"This is part of a broader issue; we shouldn't be encouraging women to act like boys," said Carrie L. Lukas, vice president for policy and economics for the Independent Women's Forum and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism. "If anything, we should encourage men to act in toward the more feminine aesthetic. When we see sportsmanship eroding in girls, it should be a sign. We should say that there is still something of value in it. We should remind women, it's not weak to play fair or even be courteous or sportsmanlike. Young women are supposed to know better."
So are men.
Karen Durkin, former CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, has a different interpretation.
"Women's sports and women athletes by and large are the gold standard of exemplary conduct and extraordinary role models," she wrote. "This (recent incident) is both unfortunate and an aberration. … This speaks first and foremost to sportsmanship and conduct, not to the gender of the athletes involved. Tough physical play and emotions running high in the heat of competition are inherent in sports but in no way excuse athletes from behaving appropriately. While isolated incidents like these may never cease completely, they do reinforce the need to continue to instill in all athletes that exemplary behavior is a key component of what it takes to be a successful athlete."
We should not “encourage men to act in toward the more feminine aesthetic,” and women should not feel the need to prove that they are not just playing to play, but playing to win.
The junior defender is extremely remorseful, but finds that her gender brought a different aspect to her actions.
“It’s more expected for men to go out there and be rough,” Lambert said. “The female, we’re still looked at as, Oh, we kick the ball around and score a goal. But it’s not. We train very hard to reach the highest level we can get to. The physical aspect has maybe increased over the years. I’m not saying it’s for the bad or it’s been too overly aggressive. It’s a game. Sports are physical.”
Yes, sports are physical, but, as former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation Julie Foudy, said, “If you’re going to pull someone’s ponytail and about snap their head off with it, that’s going over the line.” Foudy is also a former captain of the United States women’s national team and commenter for the ESPN.
Although Lambert’s actions were undeniably inexcusable, it does shed light on the contrasting expectations between male and female athletes.
“It raises the question and discussion of physicality of female play, that it is somehow less intense, that girls are out there to have fun and guys are out there to win,” said Laura Pappano, writer-in-residence at Wellesley College and a frequent writer and blogger on women and sports.
“It reveals a kind of bias about how we expect women to behave. It was just this absolute gasp when it got out of hand. Yes, she was wrong. But the response to it was so over-the-top.”