For all the positive attention ATP World No. 2 Andy Murray has received recently for his vocal support of the WTA, equal pay, and fighting sexism, there’s also been some backlash from those who feel he’s getting too much fawning praise for inconsequential actions.
After an unfortunate press conference the other day, some in the tennis community have even been looking to excuse Djokovic’s lapse in judgement by revisiting some comments Murray made in 2013, stating that if both women and men played the same number of sets at slams, it might satisfy those on the ATP who cite the best-of-3 vs. best-of-5 issue as reasoning not to support equal pay.
The comments were actually rather benign. Murray suggested he would personally like it if the tours played the same number of sets. It’s unclear whether he meant that he wanted that because he agreed with the Bo5 vs. Bo3 argument on equal pay, or whether he was saying that many of his peers believed it, so it would be easiest to just play the same number of sets to resolve the dispute. This didn’t seem very controversial to me, but perhaps I’m being generous in my interpretation of his 2013 comments since Murray has been praising equal pay as far back to at least 2007.
Setting that aside and acknowledging that he’s been a vocal proponent of equality at least since 2013, does Murray’s feminism matter? Are we just giving him an absurd amount of praise for efforts that don’t deserve it?
On the one hand, Murray hasn’t said anything too radical. He’s certainly not a feminist icon. In the real world, it’s not all that revolutionary for a man to say that he supports equal pay.
But as we’ve learned over the years, there is always a new sexist comment being made in pro tennis everywhere we turn. Tennis is now a cesspool of sexism that ranges from little demeaning remarks about the WTA from men in power to bigger horrifying incidents like the Raymond Moore comments.
It’s exhausting to fight this brand of awfulness, and it’s not fun. We all know there are more people on the ATP circuit like Sergiy Stakhovsky than we care to admit, and many of us have swept that under the rug because it’s easier to ignore it than to risk the sad realization that many of our favorite players are not worthy of our affection.
Indeed, whenever a new sexist tennis scandal pops up, the silence from ATP players is deafening. There are a few snide tweets of support for the sexist actions or nothing at all.
But then we have Andy Murray, who has made strong, unequivocal statements in the press. He’s vocally defended his decision to hire a female coach, publicly called out people like Stakhovsky, and has done all of it without asking for a pat on the back. This is who Andy Murray is, and I would hazard a guess that he himself doesn’t understand why his beliefs are regarded as unusual or worthy of over-the-top praise. He’s simply on the right side of the issue and knows it.
Ultimately, the WTA will have to continue to fight for equality. Women’s voices should be heard the loudest in this conversation. But in order to truly change the system, men in power must also use their bigger platform to be active participants on the issue.
By having a male ally in Murray who is not afraid to show his support over and over again, we now have someone on the ATP to serve as an incredible role model for players like Djokovic who aren’t quite there yet. Among ATP players, there’s simply nobody else out there making as much of an effort as he has.
Perhaps the real reason why some of us are uncomfortable praising him is because the idea that he is alone in his beliefs on the ATP Tour is too depressing to consider. I would argue that the alternative of having no Andy Murray is much worse, because it seems that there would be no other ATP player to step into that role.
Murray won’t singlehandedly defeat sexism in tennis. But perhaps some of his male colleagues will start taking note that if Murray is receiving this much positive attention from his efforts, maybe he’s onto something.
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