Sunday at Indian Wells should have been a day of healing and celebration. Not only were both world’s top-ranked players in action in the men’s and women’s singles finals at the BNP Paribas Open, but for the first time since the racist incident in 2001, both Williams sisters were on hand for the final — Serena on the court, Venus in the stands cheering her on.
Instead, their return was darkened by a reminder of the ugly sexism that still exists in the sport.
In a morning meeting with the media, Raymond Moore, the CEO of Indian Wells Tennis Garden, was asked about whether his plans to make the men’s event more prestigious extended to the women’s tournament as well. He clearly found the question amusing.
“[Y]ou know, 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,” Moore said with a laugh. “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. They really have.”
Moore’s comments didn’t end there. He said that women’s tennis did “have a handful of very attractive prospects that can assume the mantle” when Serena retires, such as Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard.
“They are physically attractive and competitively attractive,” he clarified, when asked whether he was referring to their physical appearance. “[T]hey really have quite a few very, very attractive players.”
Alarmingly, just hours later, Moore was on the court after the women’s final handing the trophies to Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams and thanking them for their play. (Azarenka, a former No. 1, upset Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the final.)
That someone with such disregard for women’s tennis is the CEO of the place that hosts one of the largest women’s tennis tournaments in the world is mind-boggling. That he was the one to hand out the prizes and publicly congratulate the players after the championship is infuriating.
What’s more, Moore’s remarks were as inaccurate as they were offensive.
To say that the WTA, the largest sport for women in the world, is simply riding the coattails of men is a disservice Billie Jean King, the rest of the WTA’s Original Nine, and every woman who has dedicated their lives to playing on the Tour. In 1970, King and eight other women all signed one-dollar contracts to create a women’s tennis tour, and in 1973 the WTA was formed. Today, the WTA is made up of 2,500 players representing 92 nations competing for $130 million in prize money in 57 events and four Grand Slams in 34 countries all over the world.
For all that they have accomplished in their illustrious careers, Federer and Nadal have nothing to do with that.
“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,” Serena said in her pitch-perfect retort to Moore after her loss. “I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate.”
Of course, men’s tennis has been in a Golden Era, and the success of players like Federer, Nadal, and Novak Djokovic has helped grow the pot for everyone — especially the rest of the men in the ATP. But tennis as a whole has undoubtedly been helped by the success of the Williams Sisters and other WTA superstars, like Maria Sharapova and Li Na.
There are plenty of thank you notes to be handed out in both locker rooms. Nobody needs to be getting down on their knees.
“We, as women, have come a long way,” Serena said. “We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”
"I don't think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that." -Serena Williams on Ray Moore's "inaccurate" remarks.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 20, 2016
As horrific as Moore’s “get down on their knees” comment was, his remarks about the “attractiveness” of the “lady players” leaves little doubt about his ideal woman — beautiful and demure, gracious and subservient. These are the views and stereotypes that female athletes are constantly trying to shatter, and it just showcases how difficult that is to do when the people holding on to those outdated ideals are the ones in charge.
Moore apologized later for his remarks, calling them “in extremely poor taste and erroneous.” But it’s too late. There are already calls for Moore to resign, and it’s likely many more will follow.
“[T]his is such a disservice to [King] and every female, not only a female athlete but every woman on this planet that has ever tried to stand up for what they believed in and being proud to be a woman,” Serena said.