The fundamental problem with the defense of Serena Williamsâ€™ behavior in the US Open final is this: The argument hinges on the right of the player to abuse the game, the equipment, and the referee.
Certainly one can argue that men commit these offenses in tennis and receive less punishment. (Though itâ€™s not like they receive none. John McEnroe was famously given a match penalty for his behavior.) That inequality should absolutely be rectified, but it should be rectified in the follow manner: NOBODY gets to abuse the game, the equipment, and the referee. What Serena did should not be okay just because someone else did it and got away with it, which is the argument of 5 year-olds and crooks.
Coaching from the sidelines happens in tennis. Itâ€™s against the rules and perhaps it shouldnâ€™t be. Iâ€™m ambivalent personally, but if it canâ€™t be called consistently, then it shouldnâ€™t be a rule. But it is right now, and Serenaâ€™s claim of not cheating was refuted on camera by her coach who acknowledged that of course he was sending her signals, everybody does it. (Itâ€™s less clear that Serena saw these coaching signs.)
I have no idea how Serena defends the charge of equipment abuse. Clearly she broke the frame of her racquet in a pique of anger. Thatâ€™s hard to argue, and Iâ€™ve not actually heard much defense of this point.
The final issue of abusing the referee is where most of the sturm und drang has occurred. Many, many players have said far worse and received relatively light to no penalty. Some of that comes down to the situation, some to the temperment of the official, and some to the inconsistency of enforcement.
Iâ€™m absolutely willing to believe that there might be a sexist double-standard at work between menâ€™s and womenâ€™s tennis and the officiating, and that should be rectified.
Ultimately, though, Iâ€™m more troubled that whatâ€™s being defended is the verbal abuse of another human being and our tacit acceptance that somehow that should be okay.
It shouldnâ€™t be okay for anyone.