John McEnroe responded to a question about Serena Williams, where the interviewer took issue with him calling her the best women’s tennis player in the world, and asked why she wasn’t the best player in the world.
Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.
McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.
Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?
McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?
Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?
McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.
Garcia-Navarro: You think so?
McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen would be I think something that perhaps it’d be a little higher, perhaps it’d be a little lower. And on a given day, Serena could beat some players. I believe because she’s so incredibly strong mentally that she could overcome some situations where players would choke ’cause she’s been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit — the men’s circuit — that would be an entirely different story.
This, apparently, qualifies as a controversial statement, because McEnroe has been labeled a sexist by some for this view. It should be noted that this came in response to a specific question as to why he didn’t consider her the best tennis player in the world. Even Serena has noted that she would get beat soundly by a top men’s player a few years ago.
McEnroe responded with his honest opinion. Who knows if it is specifically accurate–and there’s really no point in debating whether it is 700 or 500 or 900. It is viewed as a pejorative, but is quite flattering considering the population of billions on this planet and the reality of other sports. No one is out here saying that the best WNBA player would make a NBA roster or the best woman soccer player could be on a men’s World Cup roster.
It’s not an insult to say that Serena Williams is the best women’s tennis player ever. Her accomplishments are immense in her sport, and she has achieved a level of dominance rarely seen.
We also separate out genders when it comes to sports for a reason. A male player not good enough to make the NBA may still be 6’10” and can leap well above the backboard, when fewer than ten women in the history of the WNBA have been above 6’6″. Olympic sports compete separately by gender, and every sport that has objective measurements of competition results show that it is necessary.
So a debate about whether we are talking about Serena as the best tennis player in the world or best women’s player in the world is dumb. We all know we are comparing her to her female peers, just as we compare Katie Ledecky to hers.
That’s just one of the dumb things to emerge from this. Serena responded with this:
I don’t know what privacy has to do with the sports opinion. I guess she’s not alone in invoking family when a sports opinion is proffered, though, as LeBron has dropped being a father of three from time to time when players trash talk him.
But then she posted this just hours after the privacy line:
I would avoid taking her up on that offer of weighing in on whether it’s a boy or girl. Wouldn’t want to start the next sports gender debate or invade her privacy.