Opinion: ‘One of the greatest athletes of all time’? No, not Serena Williams

by Mike Ekunno

Serena Williams’ recent off-court, back hand return about preferring to be called “one of the greatest athletes of all time” instead of one of the greatest female athletes, would have passed for righteous ambition if not for its overloaded subtexts. With only two genders in competitive tennis, the Amazon meant to say that her feat covers the field.

Even that trans-gender sweep would have been glossed over if not for its baggage of insinuations, the least of which is not that male sports is not superior to the female category. This, at last is what is at the root of all that agitation for equal pay in sports. Feminism may frame the dispute in male privilege/female victim ideological terms but what is at issue really is equal pay for commensurate work.

Winning 2016 Wimbledon with Andy Murray, her equality co-traveller, makes it appear as if the Equality Ayes have carried the day, but only just. Because the contention has never been whether Serena was exceptional, nonpareil, even legendary. She is all this and more in female tennis which is her forte. Nor has it been whether a female champ exerts herself within the female field as much as a man does within the male.

It is only an insecure person that thinks qualifying tennis with a gender prefix is pejorative. Fact is that she did all she did on the ladies’ tour of the game. Is her feat transferable to the men’s tour? No. Are her records transposable to the men’s tour? No. Are there parameters to use in evaluating the relative quality of both tours and hypothetically determining what would be Serena’s fate if she played against men? Yes. And all the parameters point to the superiority of the men’s tour nay, men’s sports.

This would not be the first time Serena would be triggering the battle of the sexes. At 18years and ranked 4th , Serena had claimed she could compete with men in professional sports. She then boasted she could beat any man below the top 200 of the men’s circuit. This prompted Karsten Braasch, then ranked 203rd to take up the gauntlet at the Australian Open in 1998.

Braasch took on Serena after exhausting himself at golf and quaffing two bottles of beer. Nevertheless, he went on to beat her, 6-1. Her tag-team sister, Venus, came in to avenge her precocious kid sister’s defeat but was beaten 6-2. Thereafter the sisters reviewed their cut off point downwards to 350 on the men’s table.

For a more mature Serena to still be obsessed with mastering men in 2016, shows that Braasch did not fully exorcise that demon in 1998. Serena’s story may indeed be likened to the Igbo fable of Ojadili, the mystical wrestler who, having become the all-conquering champion in the land of humans, dared the spirit world. In the spirit world, Ojadili was sent his guardian spirit as opponent and the rest as goes the cliché, became history.

By some sleight of hand, Serena has managed to see her childhood obsession with mastering the male field morph into equal pay debate. In that unfortunate mutation, she has ducked with the rampaging feminist vanguards to see off Raymond Moore, Indian Wells CEO. While the debate lasted, the bone of contention was framed in derogatory hues of male privilege and female subjugation.

Seeing as the men play the best of five sets when the ladies play three, the issue had no business beyond commensurate pay for equal work. Aside working harder on court, the men’s game also attracts more sponsorship and viewership. Now with all the majors equalizing prize money across the genders, if there is any privilege to be spoken of, it is definitely female privilege. But even this fails to pacify Serena who I’d rather not upbraid considering what she is seen as doing for the black race.

As far as the four majors are concerned therefore, the campaign for equal pay for the men’s and ladies’ games is only academic. But the question as to superiority of the men’s game and, for that matter, men’s sports, needs to be answered decisively and away from pecuniary considerations.

The answer to the question of whether men’s sports is superior to women’s is a no brainer. In the 100m sprint, the men’s world record by Usain Bolt is 9.58sec while the female record by Florence Griffith-Joyner is 10.49sec, a clear 51 seconds’ dusting. In the 200m, it is 19.19sec for the men and 21.34sec for the women by the same holders. In high jump, Javier Sotomayor lept 2.45m for the men’s world record while Stefka Kostadinova managed a 2.09m for the female.

Men who gloat about being better than women are regarded with something of disdain in enlightened circles. It is simply not chivalrous. Being better is taken for granted. However this graceful attitude of the men is being challenged by a peculiar misandry by Western feminists who would rather master the men instead of being good at being women.

Serena Williams’ off-court grumpiness has the capacity to unleash another so-called battle of the sexes. But that will merely be a venal hype for the prize money. There is nothing to prove about the relative weights of male and female sports. The glory of the one is different from the glory of the other as the Scripture says about the sun and the moon.

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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Mike Ekunno is a freelance book editor and creative writer.

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