Culture

John McEnroe Is Right About Serena Williams

Serena Williams at the Australian Open in January (Reuters photo: Jason Reed)
People are angry because he dared to suggest that men and women are fundamentally distinct.

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.

McEnroe isn’t the first player to suggest men are better at tennis than women. Another famous example is Richard Raskind, who probably knows more about the dissimilarities in the men’s and women’s tours than anybody else. Raskind was a male tennis player in the 1950s who didn’t achieve anything of note during his playing career — that is until 1975, when Richard Raskind became Renée Richards. Playing as a woman, Richards reached the 1977 doubles final of the U.S. Open and in 1979 was ranked as high as 20 in the world at the ripe old tennis age of forty-four. After retiring, Richards said, “Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me.” Looks like even the most famous transgender tennis player of all time agrees with McEnroe: There are differences between men and women.

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