Professionalism. It’s something that athletes are universally expected to have, no matter what their mood is and no matter how their opponent plays. That’s why when a player falters and has an outburst, they are scrutinized. However, it seems that that scrutiny is pointed at some more than others.
Take Alexander Bublik for instance. In February of this year, Bublik lost to an unranked opponent named Grégoire Barrère at Open Sud de France. This caused Bublik to fail to defend his French tournament title, which made him understandable upset. However, because of his loss, he proceeded to break not one, not two, but three tennis rackets. Right in front of the crowd of people watching him. This isn’t the first time Bublik has done this. In fact, he was fined $14,000 in September 2022 for a similar outburst at the United States Open.
Now take the time to ask yourself if you’d heard of this man’s outbursts. I know I hadn’t. In fact, I learned about it from one of my colleagues. It begs the question, why hasn’t this been visible in the news? After all, Serena Williams’ outburst was plastered all over the media. Even I, someone whose never followed sports, would see articles about her on social media. The answer is clear when you look at the distinct differences between Bublik and Williams; Bublik is a man, and Williams is a woman.
Gender inequality has always been prevalent in the sports world, and this is a clear example. Alexander Bublik is able to break three rackets and still finish his game, and his tantrum isn’t nearly as infamous as Serena Williams’ back from 2018.
Some may argue Williams incident was discussed more because her name is known more amongst people than Bublik’s, but her gender does play a clear role in this.
Williams herself that Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire who made the rulings for her violations at the time, was being sexist”because she has witnessed male players calling umpires “several things,” but they were not penalized. Williams also said that “For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark,” and added, “He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women.”
Williams’ had no choice but to forfeit her whole match because of the violations Ramos claimed she’d made, but Bublik’s tirade didn’t cause his chair umpire to make him forfeit a game. In fact, he finished it after destroying the tennis rackets, and while smashing them, the crowd reportedly cheered loudly for him.
It’s also important to acknowledge the racial difference between Bublik and Williams. Bublik is white, and white privilege in sports is very much a real thing. Non-white athletes have faced barriers and dealt with microaggressions for decades, particularly African American athletes.
In society, it has long been a stereotype that Black people are more aggressive and volatile, despite showing the same amount of emotion as their white counterparts. This stereotype bleeds into sports as well: Williams being a Black woman and having an incident during a match like that was clear ammunition for the media to label her as an aggressive person. Even racist caricature art was made of her following that incident, and displayed her as a big, hulking baby throwing a massive tantrum and stomping on her tennis racquet.
Alexander Bublik and Serena Williams should both be expected to remain professionals when it comes to playing tennis, but it is clear to me they both falter and seem to garner differing levels of criticism rather than equal criticism, which isn’t new in sports or media. The expectations of male athletes and female athletes and white athletes and Black athletes are clearly different, even in 2023, and it’s clear that a lot of progress still needs to be made.
Originally Published 3/9/23