Sports

What The Reaction To Raymond Moore’s Comments Reveals About Sexism In Tennis

CREDIT: AP images

Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic

On Sunday, Raymond Moore, the tournament director of Indian Wells, one of the largest men’s and women’s tennis events in the world, talked to the media gathered for the final matches. While the interview was routine, Moore’s brash sexism came as a total shock.

He said that women’s tennis “rides the coattails of the men,” and that if he was a “lady player,” he would “go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.” He also said that women’s tennis players are “very, very lucky“ and that the WTA has “quite a few very, very attractive players.”

That anyone, much less a person intimately involved in the sport, could blindly dismiss the talent and draw of superstars like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova is baffling. But the response in the 24 hours that followed is even more telling. Moore’s degrading comments have been met with silence by most men’s tennis players, and those who have addressed them — such as top-ranked Novak Djokovic and the ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis — have used the opportunity to argue against equal prize money.

The message is clear: Tennis, the leading sport in the world for women, still has a huge sexism problem. And, while it’s ridiculous that Moore is still employed by Indian Wells, merely getting rid of him won’t fix it. (Update: Moore resigned late Monday night.)

This is an issue that permeates the sport at every level, despite the fact that so much of the tennis’s popularity is built around the joint events. Women don’t get equal time on main courts, they don’t get equal prize money across the board, and they often don’t even get the marquee scheduling — men’s finals almost always end a tournament, as if they’re the de-facto main event. The message that “women are lesser” comes from all angles.

Two years ago, frustrated with this exact topic, I wrote a handy guide to keeping sexism out of women's tennis coverage. The rules were simple: Stop looking for excuses to insult women's tennis, stop questioning equal prize money, and whatever you do, leave hormones out of it.

Well, Djokovic broke all of those rules, and then some, when he was asked about Moore's comments following his 6-0, 6-2 victory over Milos Raonic in the men's Indian Wells final. He referred to Moore's comments as "not politically correct" and added that it is a "very delicate and sensitive subject to talk about." Still, he continued.

"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," Djokovic said. "I think that's one of the, you know, reasons why maybe we should get awarded more."

He then added some ill-advised comments about the, um, biological differences between men and women.

"As I said, I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving. It's knowing what they have to go through with their bodies, and their bodies are much different than men's bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don't have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don't need to go into details. Ladies know what I am talking about."

So far, no other prominent ATP player has spoken out against Moore's comments. While some in the media, such as Patrick McEnroe, have called for Moore to resign, others have taken the time to point out some of Moore's more honorable traits. And while the ATP thankfully stayed away from any discussion of hormones, the tour did echo the rest of Novak's sentiments in a statement it took over a day to release.


That's right -- given a very obvious opportunity to take a strong stand against sexism and promote equality, men's tennis instead decided to make the argument against equal prize money.

This debate rears its ugly head every few months in tennis circles. Sometimes it's players on the ATP Player's Council, such as Gilles Simon, bringing it up unprompted at Wimbledon in 2012, other times its male tennis journalists publicly questioning the toughness of women after withdrawals. Women's tennis is constantly on the chopping block, and many are just searching for any excuse to bring the blade down.

This cycle is as exhausting as it is self-defeating. Equality in tennis is a strength for the sport, not a weakness. It brings in a wider array of fans, sponsors, and media coverage, and helps set tennis apart. The combined events, such as the Grand Slams and Indian Wells, are the most popular events, and on most days, tickets for those events aren't purchased on the basis of gender, they're purchased on the basis of tennis. The same goes for the media coverage. TV rights are often a package deal, and journalists on site cover both men and women.

Those against equal prize money will say this has nothing to do with respect and everything to do with economics, but what is the magical formula that will ensure women's tennis is properly kept in its place? Keep in mind that in 2006, the year before Wimbledon finally caved and offered equal prize money, the women's champion was paid a completely arbitrary $72,000 less. Did the data suggest that the women were $72,000 less of an attribute to the All England Club than the men? Was that money directly put in the pockets of men's tennis players? Or was it less just for the sake of being less?

As Serena mentioned in her response to Moore's comments, last year, the U.S. Open women's final sold out before the men's. In recent years, the women's final at the U.S. Open has often had more viewers than the men's in the United States. Nobody is going to argue that men's tennis is going through a Golden Era right now, but there are exceptions to every rule, which is why it's important for the sport to grow the pot for everyone, not to argue over who deserves it more.

After all, it wasn't that long ago that the ATP was pushing for more joint events so that it could capitalize off of the popularity of the Serena and Venus Williams. These things go in waves.


But what's most frustrating about this is the fact that we're talking about it at all. Usually, the equal prize money conversations are brought about by journalists on a mission. This time, tennis did it to itself.

At a pre-planned 'state of the tournament' press conference on Sunday, Moore said these outrageous and derogatory comments. When asked to respond, men's tennis could have very easily issued their support and respect, without caveat, to their female counterparts. They could have reinforced how much women have given to the sport of tennis, as athletes and fans, media members and coaches. They could have paid homage to Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams, or dozens of other superstars who have, at times, let the entire tennis world, male and female, ride their coattails.

They could have made a strong statement -- such as the one the WNBA made, perhaps -- about equality, and the important role that sports plays in societal progress.

Instead, once again, the sport decided to attack itself. Most of the attacks weren't as overtly sexist as Moore's, but that doesn't mean they're not just as damaging.

UPDATE MAR 22, 2016 8:11 AM

Larry Ellison, the owner of the tournament at Indian Wells, released the following statement on Monday night:


Share Update