Tennis needed a strong response from its stars following the sexist comments of Raymond Moore, Indian Wells CEO. Serena Williams launched the first much-needed salvo, but a follow-up from one of the men's players would have been vitally important to show a united face against discrimination in tennis. That didn't happen. Instead, Novak Djokovic made it worse.
On Sunday the Indian Wells' CEO said that women players should be "on their knees thanking God" for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, because it allowed them to be carried through the sport. His assertions were not only deeply offensive, but utterly wrong. Williams heard the comments and made her response after play on Sunday. Then it was Novak's turn.
Djokovic opened by calling it a "delicate situation," which it isn't. There's nothing "delicate" about equality or asking that women are paid the same as men. Something delicate needs to be handled carefully because it's fragile or tenuous; there shouldn't be anything delicate about fairness. Then his comments took a turn. After applauding the WTA for pushing for equal prize money he then said the ATP should push for men to earn even more.
"I applaud them for that, I honestly do. They fought for what they deserve and they got it. On the other hand I think that our men's tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches. I think that's one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve."
Djokovic's answer to Moore's sexist comments is to back them up in a roundabout way by saying that men's tennis attracts more spectators, which in turn means there shouldn't be equality in pay. This equality took a long time to win and was a major step forward for professional tennis. Djokovic wants it to take a step back under the guise of everyone fighting for what they're worth. This is a flawed argument, as Serena Williams pointed out on Sunday. The women's final at the US Open in 2015 sold out well before the men's, meaning there is an appetite for women's tennis that is equal to, or exceeds the men's game.
Raymond Moore Resigns
This statement in itself would have been in bad form, but Djokovic took it a step further.
"I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving. Their bodies are much different to men's bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don't have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don't need to go into details."
Novak's comments solidify every sexist stereotype about women in sport. Female athletes struggle against a lot of things, but distilling that to their bodies and hormones while saying they should be paid less than men is precisely the kind of thinking we need to move past.
Djokovic tried to turn his comments into taking a stand for women, but it came off as being half-hearted.
"I have had a woman that was my coach and that was a huge part of my tennis career. I'm surrounded by women. I'm very happy to be married with one and to have a child. I'm completely for women power."
This was a chance for one of the biggest stars in all of tennis, and a man, to stand up to clearly reprehensible and sexist comments about his fellow athletes. He didn't. Not only did he skirt around Moore's comments, but he called the situation "delicate," called for men to be paid more and gave a backhanded compliment about how women deserve respect for dealing with their hormones. This wasn't wasn't what tennis needed or sports in general needed. It was the opposite.