Another Ace for Serena Williams’ PR team

serena williams pr

Serena Williams is used to controversy, but this past summer was emotionally charged even by her standards. The tennis world was rocked during the 2018 US Open when Williams, inarguably the world’s greatest female athlete, accused a male umpire of making a harsh call- on account of, according to Williams, her being a woman.

International news outlets described her impassioned comments with varying degrees of seriousness, ranging from a “furious rant” to a “full-blown meltdown.” After receiving a warning for being illegally coached, losing a point for smashing a racket, and ultimately docked a game for labelling the umpire a “liar” and a “thief”, it seemed Williams was on her way to tennis’ naughty corner for once and for all. By Sunday night, however, it was Serena who was winning the public relations battle, with both female and male athletes jumping to her defence and agreeing to her calls of being a victim of blatant sexism on a world stage.

Indeed, it was Carlos Ramos, the Portuguese umpire, who looked to be the real loser during the match; facing a global backlash for his calls, at-home spectators could not seem to decide if was a narky stickler for the rules, or a clear-cut sexist who overreacted to Williams’ self-defence. Either way, he was seen to have been far harsher on the female athlete than he would have ever attempted to be had the match been between two males.

“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. “For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’,” said Williams at the ensuing press conference.

The crowd at Flushing Meadows in New York was also quick to her defence, booing Ramos into submission. Famous tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King was also immediate in voicing her support of Williams. “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions,” the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles tweeted that weekend, “thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

Male tennis darling Andy Roddick also spoke in defence of Williams’ comment. “I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty,” the former US Open champion and world number one posted on Twitter: “Worst refereeing I’ve ever seen ……the worst !!!”

Still, not everyone was on Team Serena following the incident. Andrew Castle, former tennis player and now TV commentator, was appalled by Williams’ actions on the court. “You just can’t act like that I’m afraid. Serena now claiming that men do this. More nonsense. Is she claiming sexism? This is not right,” he tweeted.

Whatever your stance on the issue, one thing is clear: in the court of public opinion, the support of the masses will always drown out any technicalities. This is one match that Williams’ has definitively won.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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