The Times of Londonis reporting that professional tennis umpires have threatened to boycott officiating Serena Williams鈥 future matches after she accused sitting officiant Carlos Ramos of 鈥渟tealing鈥 her points in the US Open. One of the umpires鈥 bones of contention, supposedly, is that The Women鈥檚 Tennis Association (WTA) and United States Tennis Association (USTA) have backed Williams鈥 claims of sexism in Ramos鈥 docking the tennis star of two points, which may have cost her the final against Naomi Osaka.

And while it may seem at first glance like a cut-and-dried case of sexism, which Williams herself has implied, conversations about Williams鈥 treatment at the 2018 US Open have as much (or more) to do with the color of her skin.

BBC News set out to end the sexism debate early on Wednesday by aggregating data that seems to suggest that Williams鈥 treatment was not sexist 鈥 women playing the four 2018 tennis Grand Slams had slightly fewer deductions, on average, than their male counterparts. But race was not taken into account in this calculus. It should have been.

Williams, like Arthur Ashe and other Black tennis players before her, has endured an uphill battle by virtue of simply playing a sport which was segregated for centuries and considered a white nobleman鈥檚 game.聽 In fact, there have only been 28 Black men and 35 Black women to play tennis at an elite level, ever.

While Williams鈥 star rose, so did racist attacks against her. She鈥檚 been booed. She鈥檚 been called the N-word. She and her sister, Venus were called 鈥The Williams Brothers鈥 because of their powerful physiques and prowess on the court, and more. All along, Serena has been the target of messaging that she isn鈥檛 welcome in the sport she dominates. We cannot ignore the role of racism.

What Williams said to Ramos at the US Open, 鈥渢hief,鈥 was innocuous compared to what many of her white counterparts have said to him and other umpires in the past. She didn鈥檛 threaten, and she didn鈥檛 curse. But the argument is not about whether what she said was or wasn鈥檛 right: it鈥檚 about the repercussions she incurred, which included a $17,000 fine in addition to the two-point deduction.

Videos of white tennis players berating umpires, smashing multiple rackets, threatening officials, and even hitting umpires with balls can easily be found online. There doesn鈥檛 seem to be any instance of mass-boycott to result from those players鈥 actions.

Consider the privilege of white tennis players like John McEnroe (who sides with Williams), whose abhorrent on-court behavior became an almost beloved signature in professional tennis. Compare that with the experience of Williams, arguably the best living tennis player on earth, who in 2018 must still face racist cartoons that depict her physique and features styled in the way Black people were drawn during the height of the Jim Crow era.

Depictions of Osaka after her defeat of Williams also reinforce anti-Black stereotypes. Though Osaka is both Japanese and Haitian, is very obviously biracial, and grew up in Florida, she tends to be described simply as 鈥淛apanese.鈥 In the high-profile, racist cartoon that emerged after the US Open, Osaka wasn鈥檛 even depicted at all 鈥 a nondescript blonde player was drawn in her place. Erasing Osaka鈥檚 own Blackness serves to further isolate Williams as an aggressive outlier in her sport, and advances the racist trope of the violent, angry Black聽woman.

With the umpires threatening to boycott Williams鈥 future games, they are saying that although most (if not all) professional tennis players have had similar outbursts on the court, it鈥檚 particularly the outbursts of the greatest tennis player of all time 鈥 a Black woman 鈥 that are so damaging to their profession.

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