Serena Williams’ emotional outburst during the 2009 U.S. Open drew the highest fine ever in the history of professional tennis. The ITF recently fined Williams $82,000 and placed her on probation for arguing with a lineswoman who penalized her for a foot fault. If Williams violates the terms of her probation, she could be suspended and the fine will increase to $175,000.
But while Willams deserved to be reprimanded for her actions, the ITF’s fine was excessive when compared to how other hotheads on the tennis court have been punished in the past. For example, Jeff Tarango was fined $48,000 when his wife slapped an umpire moments after he forfeited a match by walking off of the court at Wimbeldon in 1995. Jimmy Connors, who built a reputation for using vulgar language and pointing the middle finger at judges, was only fined $20,000 for a tirade in 1986. And John McEnroe’s consistent disrespect for umpires was basically passed off as comic relief.
Unlike the players who have received lesser fines, Williams has had very few disciplinary problems on the tennis court throughout her professional career. The ITF failed to take into account that her tirade was an uncommon incident that was provoked in part by the truth (video replays proved that Williams should not have been penalized for a foot fault).
However, the ITF’s ruling has little to do with the rules. Tennis has historically excluded blacks and continues to struggle with fair treatment when it comes to race. Although the Williams sisters have made unprecedented strides in tennis, the individuals who govern the sport are still opposed to having a young black woman speak her mind. They want to send a message to Williams and other young black girls who look up to her. The ITF wants to use that $175,000 fine to embarrass her and mentally whip her into submission.
Connors and McEnroe got away with yelling profanities at umpires for years without having to face such punishment. The ITF wants to make sure that a black woman will not think about doing the same.