Manufacturing Controversy Once Again: The Media’s Pathetic Handling of John McEnroe and Serena Williams

Recently, former tennis great John McEnroe said something hateful, sexist, and mean about Serena Williams.  Or at least that’s what most of the news and sports outlets want to say, such as ESPN, SB Nation, BBC News, Salon, Deadspin, CNN, The Huffingpost, and… well, virtually everyone.  Headlines burst forth that McEnroe claimed that Serena would only rank about #700 in the men’s tour.  When Serena responded on Twitter by telling him to not make statements that aren’t “factually based” and to respect her and her privacy, the media and people on social media cheered.  She put McEnroe “in his place.”  She “owned” him.  She had a “perfect” response.

Too bad all of this is an example of childish over-sensitivity, delusion, terrible logic, and pitiful reading comprehension from most people.  It’s also an example of the media taking words out of context to manufacture a controversy to get gullible people riled up.  McEnroe was not only right, he was also merely answering a question.  Look at his words in context:

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.


Oh, the humanity!  He only called her the greatest women’s player of all time, “no question”?  Not good enough!  In our gender confused society, the common sense idea that men have natural advantages in sports is somehow sexist, even though, you know, we separate men and women’s sports routinely for a reason.

Obviously, McEnroe simply made a sensible point to the interviewer’s silly questions as to why McEnroe qualifies Serena as a women’s tennis player (maybe because she’s, you know, a woman?).  Serena would not be able to compete at a high level playing against men.  Period.  Does she deserve credit for dominating her sport?  Of course, and McEnroe gave it to her.  But he had no intention of calling her the greatest tennis player when even below average male players would beat her, and there’s nothing wrong with making that point.  It would be unfair and ultimately uninteresting for Serena to play male tennis players.  Who exactly wants to see that except deluded people who think she’d have a chance, the same deluded people who thought Ronda Rousey could beat up male MMA fighters?

The hilarious thing about Serena’s Twitter response is that she openly admitted a few years ago on David Letterman that she’d get obliterated by Andy Murray.  Her and her sister also claimed they could beat any man who was ranked #200 or below back in 1998, and a guy named Karsten Braasch, ranked #203 at the time, took up the challenge and dominated both of them without trying very hard.  He was also in the middle of a fall in ranking, and would be ranked about #500 not too long after that.  Sure, neither Serena nor Venus were in their primes yet, but this guy wasn’t exactly representing elite men’s tennis either.  Throw in the fact that the difference between #700 and #200 is negligible compared to the difference between #200 and #1, and you have many tennis fans actually saying that McEnroe was being way too charitable and insulting the men who are ranked around #700.  But #700 sounds so low, so let’s get mad even though most of us have no idea who plays tennis outside of the most famous players (Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic) while John McEnroe is still intimately plugged into that world.

Furthermore, we don’t need her to play a bunch of matches against men to get “facts.”  We have facts such as basic physiology.  Her response was silly.  Of course she can destroy average Joe’s at tennis; I’d hope so, given that she’s a professional tennis player.  However, she’d have trouble against college men’s players, much less elite pros.  And here’s where someone throws out Billie Jean King, conveniently forgetting that the guy she played, Bobby Riggs, was 26 years older than her and at the ripe old age of 55.  McEnroe is 58 himself, so maybe she can play him, possibly beat him, and people can celebrate… their own insecure feelings, I guess, that she is able to defeat someone who is closer to qualifying for social security payments than he is to prime tennis age.

So here’s what happened: McEnroe gets questioned as to why he calls Serena the greatest female player in the world (even the best in history) but not just “tennis player.”  He responds that there are plenty of men who would consistently beat her, so it would therefore be false to call her the best tennis player without qualification.  And then brainless social justice warriors, the dishonest media, and uncritical people threw a fit because our society has become so confused about gender distinctions.

Sometimes, I have no idea how we can have rational conversations when this kind of stupid is so widespread and encouraged.


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