It was a big weekend in sports. Tennis superstar Serena Williams’ upset at the U.S. Open sparked another debate about sexism and unsporting conduct. And NFL fans who have waited anxiously all summer for football’s return got to see the first games of the season on Sunday – that included two Miami Dolphins players who kneeled during the national anthem.
Daron Roberts is a former NFL and college football coach, and director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at the University of Texas at Austin. He says the NFL and the players’ union didn’t come to an agreement on a policy for player protests during games, so there is no league-wide policy for the 2018 season.
“These are issues that touch Americans in very real ways – race, crime,” Roberts says.
Roberts says the nature of the way people feel when it comes to player protest provokes strong feelings. Patriotism, the military and police brutality strike deep chords among football viewers.
“I think it’s actually smart that the NFL said let’s kick this down the road for another year,” he says.
In Sunday’s games, Roberts says only 10 players mounted any sort of protest during a game. He says it’s likely that even without NFL sanctions, individual players will face backlash for their own protests.
“I still commend players that are willing to express their views in this way, especially given so much dissent that is out in the country,” Roberts says.
Even if you disagree with player protests, Roberts says, “you do have to at least acknowledge that this is a courageous act.”
Players, he says, are risking their careers to protest.
For tennis fans, Saturday’s U.S. Open victory by underdog Japanese player, Naomi Osaka was marred by controversy over penalties issued by an umpire to her opponent, Serena Williams. The penalties came after Williams questioned calls during the match. It is widely believed that the umpire didn’t treat Williams fairly.
“What Serena is saying is, listen…I would not have received the same penalty, had I been a male tennis player. This is really calling to light [the question]: Is there sexism in tennis?” Roberts says.
Williams was fined $17,000, and lost the match after the penalties were applied.
Roberts says Williams is not a player known for outbursts against officials.
“This is a rare outburst from her,” Roberts says. “I think you would want to give her a little more leniency, given her place in the sport.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.