EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is reprinted with permission from Acculturated.
John McEnroe is back in the limelight and getting just as much hate as he did back in his “You cannot be serious!” days in the 1970s and 1980s. He recently earned the ire of Serena Williams and her fans after saying she couldn’t make it on the men’s tour. I’ve already written a bit on the subject, and McEnroe only reiterated what tennis fans already know: There’s a serious skill difference between the men’s tour and the women’s tour. This shouldn’t be a divisive statement, but all of a sudden, it’s been turned into a redux of the Battle of the Sexes. Williams has painted herself as a victim, a strong woman unfairly criticized by a sexist relic of tennis, the Billie Jean King to McEnroe’s Bobby Riggs. The issue with that is . . . well, McEnroe’s done nothing but praise her. He may have been a class-A jerk during his years on the tennis circuit, but time and age have mellowed him. Here’s the controversial exchange from his recent interview with NPR:
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.
McEnroe didn’t downplay Williams’s success or suggest she wasn’t the most accomplished tennis player of all time. He said she wasn’t the best player in the world, meaning that there are people in the world who can beat her. McEnroe’s true sin wasn’t that he was rude or disrespectful to Williams, but that he draws a distinction between the sexes. He recognized the inherent biological differences separating males and females, differences that make men better in most athletic endeavors. Such a statement shouldn’t be provocative; it is just basic science that, on average, men are bigger and stronger than women.
Even though what McEnroe said is seemingly innocuous (and true), it challenges the entire worldview of many on the Left. To say there are differences between the sexes is to say that gender isn’t fluid, which, taken to its logical conclusion, might suggest that biology prevents a woman from ever fully becoming a man or vice versa. This is a direct challenge to the ideology promoted both by feminists and the LGBTQ community, because it suggests that “equality” (defined by activists as perfect proportionality between men and women in all things) cannot be achieved.
— Alec Dent is a student at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. He is the CEO of Carolina Liberty Foundation and the editor in chief of the Carolina Review. He is a regular contributor to Acculturated.