Apologize to – HER?

Serena Williams & Naomi Osaka

By Keisha Bell

Preconceived notions, loyalties, money and even jealousy are a few of the things that can affect how one may interpret an event and, or a person. This may not seem like a big deal as long as the whispers remain contained, but what happens to her when misconceptions affect her game, which in turn affects her set and cost her the match?

On Saturday, Sept. 8, Naomi Osaka played against her childhood idol Serena Williams in the Finals of the US Open. Drama ensued once the umpire gave Williams a code violation for what he said was coaching.

Williams was adamant that she did not receive coaching. A split screen of the events showing both Williams on the court and her coach sitting in the player box seems to support her claim.

“I don’t cheat to win; I’d rather lose,” Williams asserted.

In the midst of two more code violations, an eventual loss was, in fact, the result for Williams — who repeatedly demanded an apology from the umpire.

Interestingly, Williams referenced that every year there is some issue regarding her when she plays in this tournament. Her claim goes back to 2004. Then, because of a series of atrocious calls against her, tennis was inspired to institute an instant replay system.

Williams’ fight for fair treatment on her job resulted in the establishment of a tool to make her workplace a fair environment for all. Her strong voice enhanced a sport for both the fans and the players.

Still, Williams said every time she plays at the US Open “there’s always something” unfair happening to her. How many people are in working environments and can relate to her? Many times, these things are on some level seemingly accepted practices.

One well-known inequitable practice is the gender wage pay gap. This is so well-known that Equal Pay Day is nationally observed. Studies also show significant discrepancies in earnings when race is added. The impact of these economic differences is on public display every day, depending on how you interpret what you see.

For decades, Williams has endured both public and not so public acts of inequity and discrimination. Examples include daily racist attacks from spectators, being drug tested more than any other player, body shaming, the need to demand proper medical care, inappropriate interview questions and comments from other players that sometimes include rude treatment.

Williams faces constant, tremendous pressure while she advocates to make her workplace fair for all. Is she expected to handle it with a smile while only saving her fight for when she is hitting a tennis ball with her racket? Should she maintain tradition and not say anything like those before her and wait for someone else to take a stand?

What determines how you interpret confident, strong, intelligent, bold, black women and girls?

She may not hold a tennis racket or be married to a former U.S. president, but how do you see her when she is your neighbor, your colleague, your classmate or your church member? Do you need to know her to root for her?

The fact is that Williams has had to deal with attacks because of her race and gender for her entire professional career. She is not alone. Every wrong will not be done in public.

Maybe Williams said it best when she remarked, “I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is an example for the next person that has emotions, [who] wants to express themselves [and] want to be a strong woman. They’re gonna be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s gonna work out for the next person.”

No matter how one perceives what happened during Saturday’s match, Williams has pushed a much-needed conversation to the forefront. What some call a tantrum may have been the emotional outcry that is needed to bring a serious discussion to the table regarding double standards in tennis.

Keisha Bell

Keisha Bell

The cry may have needed to be loud and bold and uncompromising to be heard. Maybe its failure to be a pressing priority was because resolution needed to come in the form of a repeated demand for an apology, followed by an action plan for doing something about it.

Guess it depends on how you interpret the event, and, or the people.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant. www.emergingfree.com

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