Serena Williams’ husband slams New York Times over ‘misleading’ story on tennis penalties

Serena Williams’ husband took the New York Times to task while offering a basic lesson in statistics Sunday on Twitter in support of his wife’s claims of a double standard in tennis based on gender.

Williams raised the issue this month during the U.S. Open final after she was docked a point, then a game for behavior that included shattering her tennis racket and berating chair umpire Carlos Ramos. She accused Ramos of sexism, suggesting that male players get away with verbal abuse more often than women.

Last week, the New York Times ran an article with some statistics that appeared to show that men are penalized far more often than women in almost every category at Grand Slam events over the last 20 years. As far as verbal abuse is concerned, the article states, men have been penalized 62 times to only 16 for women.

But Williams’ husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, took to Twitter to point out a major flaw in the article’s argument.


“The argument is that women are punished more often *per incident* than men are,” Ohanian tweeted. “These data only show there are more penalties for men *total.*”

His point is that the New York Times article, which was written by Christopher Clarey, only provides numbers for how many times the players were penalized for verbal abuse, which he says is meaningless without knowing how often players from each gender actually took part in abusive behavior with or without being penalized.

Ohanian provides an example using some of the other numbers provided in the article:


“If men were punished 344 times out of 3440 audible obscenities (10% enforcement), but women were punished 140 times out of 700 audible obscenities (20% enforcement) — that would mean women are penalized 2x more often than men for the same violation.”

He added that he’d be “happy to help fund an independent research team to run the actual analysis! Statistics can be illuminating when you know what you’re looking for.”

Also, Ohanian said he donated $7,140 — “$10 for every word (714) in that misleading article” — to DonorsChoose, a nonprofit classroom funding site for public school teachers, “to make sure the next generation gets access to learn basic statistics.”

Others on Twitter made similar points. Ross Tucker stated that Clarey’s article provides only “Step 1 in addressing the issue,” in that it “doesn’t yet show is whether the sanctions are in proportion to behavior. That is, is same behavior sanctioned the same way?”

Clarey agreed: “Bring on Step 2, which is a great deal trickier to bring on.”


Tennis Channel commentator Brett Haber wrote that Clarey used “the wrong metric to support/refute @serenawilliams’ claim. It’s not how often men/women are penalized, rather the differing thresholds for penalty between the genders, specifically with verbal abuse.”

Clarey responded: “Would love to have that, too, Brett. As we said, each case should be analyzed on its own merits. But this data, though hardly definitive, has value.”

Twitter: @chewkiii

Get our daily Sports Report newsletter