[OPINION] Why Serena Williams’ fight should make us all feel uncomfortable
I’ve been in the sports broadcasting industry for 15 years now. When I was first given the weekend sports anchor role on radio, you could count on one hand the number of female sports broadcasters.
I really hate the “women in sport” label. And while I've become used to people asking, “How come you know so much about sport?” The question itself grates me. Just pause for a moment. Are these questions you’d ever ask a man, and if not, why not? Women have been playing and watching sport for the longest time - are we just not supposed to know about it? or have an opinion on it? Why is it so out of character for you? Growing up I didn’t know it wasn’t the norm. It only became evident when I went into broadcasting.
In 2005, I joined a major TV sports broadcaster - I had reached my dream. In the same year, Serena Williams started the fight for equal pay in tennis at Wimbledon. Feathers were ruffled. Men were getting hot under their crisp collars of privilege.
Life at the big broadcaster was good. It wasn’t long before I pushed for more. I had proved myself - you know, beyond good enough to be the dolly who asks spectators “are you having fun tonight?”.
I wanted to present live football. The big bosses (none female) took a chance. I presented numerous Spanish games alongside the legendary Eddie Lewis, whom I had the utmost respect for. He was impressed by my football knowledge.
Until one day, I was asked to fill in on an English Premier League game. That was the dream. I’ve watched MANY football broadcasts - and if you pay attention to what the men are actually saying, even today, it’s often illogical, repetitive and they fumble. But as a female, every, single, word, I, say, is, scrutinised. People are quicker to criticise should I fumble over my words.
Back to that Premier League game. I did the opening banter with my guest, went to halftime and bantered again. I thought it was going well. Until ...
Just as the second half started this former Southampton player reached into his bag and pulled out a Premier League fact book of sorts. He slid it across the table and in his very British accent said, “You should really read this lovey”.
Stunned. Would he have done the same to a man? I strongly doubt it. It is, after all, an all-boys club. I never worked on the production around a football match again. I was never given a reason. And I never had enough confidence to put my hand up again.
About a year later I co-hosted a weekly live show, alongside one of the biggest names in the industry. To call a spade a spade, I did three-quarters of the work for a quarter of HIS pay. He knew it. I knew it. We spoke to each other about the injustice of it all. But nothing changed.
When I had my first daughter I closed the door on TV and chose radio. I chose consistent hours and little weekend work. The reality is sport happens on weekends and so does family. Isn’t it a choice you’d want your mom to make?
I admire the female broadcasters who currently grace our screens on weekends because inside I know the sacrifices they’ve made.
Serena Williams gave birth in September 2017. Complications afterwards left her fighting for her life. But, less than a year later she has competed in two grand slam finals. Two! I didn’t get out of my pyjamas for three months after my daughter was born.
Also, less than a year later she has been criticised for what she wore at the French Open and more recently the controversy that unfolded at the US Open final.
Williams was penalised a point for “coaching”. It’s when your coach gives you hand signals from his seat. It’s not allowed but it’s done all the time. The male commentators were heard saying, “Men do this all the time and they’re not penalised”.
Williams knew this, she had a strong word with the umpire - as many players have done in the past. She received a warning for a code violation. Her mental game was weakened.
As the pressure mounted and the match was not going as she’d hoped, Serena broke her racquet in frustration. Penalised. Fair enough. But when she got vocal later on, the umpire was so taken aback he penalised her a game.
She’s clearly heard saying “You are not being fair ... this is not fair ... I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose. You owe me an apology. You need to announce that I did not cheat. I have a daughter and I stand up for her”
Serena then asks to speak to top officials. When a man and woman come onto the court, Williams directs her attention to the woman.
Her face says it all. I have been there. It’s the hope that if I speak to another woman she will understand.
She will understand that I’ve been fighting my whole life. Fighting harder than any man to prove myself, fighting for equal deserved pay, fighting to wear what I want, fighting to say what I want, to give birth and then fighting for my life.
Fight, fight, fight!
Fight with the inner turmoil of ‘am I being a good mom’. Fight with the decision to be a working mom.
Fight. Fight. Fight!
Thank you, Serena, for fighting the fight.
More than 70% of men in the world’s top 200 in tennis have earned more than their female counterparts in 2018, with prize money only equal in the majors.
Go back to Williams’ reaction on Saturday night. Close your eyes and imagine it was a men’s game.
Do you still have as much of an opinion? Would you still be debating it with your friends, or will it just be a talking point and move on?
Do you feel uncomfortable because she spoke up? As women we aren’t supposed to lose our cool. We’re not supposed to break tennis racquets. We’re not supposed to compete on equal playing fields. We’re not supposed to be sports broadcasters.
Right now, many people are going, "Wow, Cindy you’re a feminist - do you burn your bra too?" No. No, I don’t.
I just don’t want my daughters growing up in a world fighting for what is owed to them. I’ll take on that fight for them. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been quite openly told, “You cannot know as much about sport as a man does” - really? Or, “Wow you know just as much as the boys” - it’s condescending.
Also, “The only reason women get into sports presenting is to be closer to the players." Don’t flatter yourselves.
My daughters should not have to experience that. Ever. Not in any profession. Not on any day.
I know there are many people reading this thinking of all the times I messed up on air.
Are you listening as closely when men present sport? Or are you expecting me to slip up because I am a woman in “your game”?
You can roll your eyes and say it “Chicks!”
Should Serena Williams have kept her cool and remained calm? If you had asked me 10 years ago I would have said yes. That was before I had daughters, before I realised how life is slanted against them. Before I realised how hard it is to be a working mom, never mind a professional sportswoman. A woman who has had to go above and beyond to prove herself time and time again on and off the court.
So men, don’t come tell me your opinion on how Serena should and shouldn’t have behaved. Because quite honestly, you just don’t know. And you never will. And it’s not your fault the world is slanted in your favour. But you can change that.
“I have a daughter and I stand up for her.” - Serena Williams.
Cindy Poluta is an EWN sports anchor. You can follow her on Twitter @CindyPoluta