A few months ago, I was driving home from work late at night when I was pulled over. I was going 72 mph on a freeway I thought had a speed limit of 70 but, as it turned out, was 55.
I tried to explain to the police officer that I simply misunderstood the speed limit, but he said I missed two speed limit signs and that he was going to issue me a ticket. I couldn’t argue any more because I was clearly wrong.
The next day, a woman on the radio bragged about how she had recently been let off with a warning after getting pulled over for going 12 over.
I thought the officer who pulled me over should have issued a warning because I wasn’t willfully going so much over the speed limit. It seemed like an understandable mistake that I would learn from and not repeat. So imagine my frustration when this woman was bragging about how she was let off with a warning.
Someone told me that, in their view, sometimes male officers are more willing to let women off with warnings than men. If I was a woman, this person argued, it’s possible I would have only been warned.
I believe there’s some truth to that.
My mind was taken back to that conversation this weekend as I watched the fallout from Serena Williams’ misconduct penalties in her loss to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open women’s final.
Williams argued about a double-standard in tennis that men get away with behavior women don’t.
I believe there’s some truth to that.
It seems in life, your gender can sometimes work for you and it can sometimes work against you.
What I hope people don’t do is think Williams was right to justify her behavior by what others get away with.
Just like it’s not right for me to speed and think I should get away with it simply because that same officer might let someone else off with a warning for the very same thing, it’s not right for Williams to think she should be able to break clearly established codes of conduct like accepting coaching, breaking her racquet in a fit and berating and bullying an official, even if men can get away with it.
Imagine if the chair umpire didn’t enforce the rules and Williams won. The conversation would have been about how the official allowed Williams to win by not enforcing clear rules.
And I hope people don’t actually think, as Williams stated during one of her rants against the official, that he stole the match from her.
Osaka won the first set 6-2 because she dominated with her serve and had fewer unforced errors.
In the second set, Williams had a chance to serve for a commanding 4-1 lead. She had just broken Osaka’s serve for the first time in the match and, despite being issued the warning for receiving coaching, clearly had momentum on her side.
But Osaka broke her serve to pull within 3-2. Then Williams broke her racquet, which resulted in a second violation and a free point for Osaka to start the next game. Williams couldn’t even compete the rest of the game, losing it in less than one minute. Osaka then broke her serve again to take a 4-3 lead.
Interestingly, the announcers noted after the second violation that Williams needed to control herself because another violation would result in a game penalty. If they knew it, Williams definitely knew it, but I guess because Osaka was so thoroughly beating her, she couldn’t control herself.
So she went after the official again, seemingly unprovoked this go-round, calling him a thief. So the official issued the game penalty and Osaka suddenly had a 5-3 lead.
Even after all that, Williams had a chance to recapture momentum after winning the next game to make it 5-4. But Osaka made quick work of her for the 6-4 win, and that was that.
It’s not just impressive that Osaka won, but that she was able to do so in such a dominant and convincing fashion that Williams couldn’t contain her frustration.
That has to be extremely gratifying for an athlete. I hope Osaka thinks more about how amazing an accomplishment it is to win a major and do it in that fashion, rather than what anyone thinks about how unfairly they believe Williams was treated.