Clippers guard Chris Paul criticized NBA referee Lauren Holtkamp after she slapped him with a technical during a blow-out loss. After the game, Paul ripped Holtkamp for the technical and then said, “This (being an NBA referee) might not be for her.”
Paul’s comment can be construed as sexist, and for that reason, his words were eagerly debated throughout the country. Sports radio talk shows, including ESPN hosts Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd and Dan La batard all debated what Paul said. The discussion centered on Paul’s intent. Does he believe Holtkamp made a bad call because she is a woman or because she is a rookie referee? Only Paul knows the answer. Nevertheless, Paul’s comments became the top sports topic for a few days.
On the same day Paul made what might have been a sexist remark, tennis player Serena Williams announced she was returning to the Indian Wells tennis tournament after a 14-year absence. In 2001, rumors surfaced that the Williams sisters were “fixing” matches at Indian Wells so they wouldn’t have to face each other. They were scheduled to play against each other before Venus Williams withdrew from the match 20 minutes beforehand because of wrist tendinitis.
The situation was exacerbated when tennis player Elena Dementieva was asked who would win a Serena-Venus showdown. Dementieva said that their father, Richard Williams, would determine the winner.
Dementieva later said she was joking. Nevertheless, Richard Williams said he was subjected to racial slurs and scenarios from the Indian Wells crowd after Dementieva’s comments. Serena, who was 19 at the time, was booed throughout her march but eventually won the tournament. She cried for two hours in the locker room after it was over and has been haunted by the incident ever since. She vowed never to return to Indian Wells.
But in a column written for Time.com, Serena said she would return to the tournament in March because she has grown up and so has her sport. When a Russian official made a racist and sexist remark about Serena and Venus, the World Tennis Association and the United States Tennis Association immediately condemned the official. Bolstered by that incident and for the need to forgive, Serena will play in Indian Wells again.
Not only will she be there, but she is also raising money for the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization dedicated to providing under-privileged populations with better legal representation. Fans can buy a raffle ticket for $10 for the right to stand with Williams at the tournament.
So, while Serena Williams is making a courageous stand, and while the Indian Wells tournament and professional tennis is ready for redemption, the national sports media is more concerned about a possible sexist comment from Chris Paul?
How can we move forward with sexism and racism in sports and elsewhere when we, as the media, are constantly looking for problems, when a solution, in the form of possibly the greatest tennis player ever, is standing right in front of us?
I am not saying that sexism against female referees in the NBA or in sports generally, isn’t real. But does it have to dwarf a story of courage, forgiveness and redemption?