Thursday, August 30, 2018

Clothing-related code violation at U.S. Open is another growing pain for equality

On Wednesday during one of my social-media scrolls, I came across a few Tweets and a brief video from the U.S. Open tennis tournament. It was of a women's tennis player changing her shirt behind the baseline on court - with a sports bra still on, of course. Turns out, it caused quite a stir.

The player was Alize Cornet, and what I saw first was someone trying to be funny without all the facts on Twitter, saying women are allowed to take their shirts off during tennis matches now. Apparently, she had put her shirt on backward during one of the new extreme-heat breaks in her first-round match, and corrected her mistake once she was back on the court.

It didn't seem like any big deal to me. Sure, women aren't in the habit of taking their shirts off in public, but she wasn't naked or anything. And let's remember that the men change shirts all the time during changeovers because of the heat. Flushing Meadows has seen quite the heat wave as tournament play opened this week, causing retirements from some players and the previously mentioned breaks off-court because of the heat.

Anyway, I then found out that Cornet was assessed a code violation from the chair umpire for unsportsmanlike conduct because of her wardrobe change. Umm, what? That's ridiculous. Apparently, the USTA backtracked the situation with a statement including: "All players can change their shirts when sitting in the player chair" and made a policy change to avoid this type of situation in the future. So, there's that.

The WTA also commented, calling the code violation "unfair" and was part of a Grand Slam set of rules, not USTA rules. That clears things right up, although it does seem like the USTA did its best after the fact. The damage was still done from the violation, however, causing a big reaction from other players and across the social media sphere. Cornet received an apology, was not fined (she only received a warning at the time) and didn't think much of it all, until she heard the reactions.

Other players like two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka commented on the situation, saying it was ridiculous and "if I would say my true feelings, it would be bleeped."

Former player Tracy Austin chimed in via Twitter, tsk-tsking the incident:

Discussion about clothing for women's tennis players has been in the news more than once lately. The French tennis federation president, Bernard Giudicelli, bashed the "catsuit" Serena Williams wore at the French Open, saying players can go "too far" and using it as a reason for a dress code.

Be reminded that all things are not quite equal, despite strides
One of the things that make professional tennis so fun to watch and a bit unique from other sports is the equality factor. Men and women both compete in tournaments and grand slams, playing singles, doubles and mixed doubles. The men play best-of-five in slams as opposed to the women's best-of-three, but there's still a large draw for both. Numbers-wise, it's much more equal than if you compare it to other professional sports like basketball or hockey. I suppose golf is a similar comparison here.

That said, incidents like this about women's clothing that pop up are still reminders that the sport still has some growing pains to manage. I haven't done all the research, but I think this applies to prize money as well.

In a time when the #MeToo movement is still going strong, we're reminded that equal treatment is still not a given. At the risk of making a mountain out of a molehill here with the clothing code violation, why was this such an issue? It can be a mistake from the chair umpire, of course, but at worst it's seen as just another piece of evidence that sexism is part of the game. Even if it's a very small part of it.

With professional sports in general, I do think too much gets made out of what athletes choose to wear. That goes for football cleats, too. In tennis, it's all about endorsements and wearing name-brand clothing from whichever company is throwing its money behind the player's team. Wimbledon still has the white-only rule for clothing, which just looks odd when you watch these players at the three other grand slams.

But when it comes down to it, what an athlete wears should not be that big of a deal. Similarly, if a female tennis player chooses to change her shirt while out on the court during a break in the action, that should be fine, too.

Let's hope this incident with Alize Cornet will be quickly forgotten and only show its effects when a woman wants to change her shirt at a changeover, like when the court temperature reaches 100-plus degrees, for example. Just like men do all the time.