Sunday, August 20, 2017
by Prof. Justine Dunlap
More than a fortnight ago, Scottish tennis player Andy Murray made my day. Mr. Murray, during a presser at Wimbledon, matter-of-factly corrected a reporter who asked a blanket question referencing victories at Wimbledon that completely ignored women’s tennis. In asking the question, the reporter said that a particular male tennis player was the “first American player to reach the semi-finals of a slam”… and Murray interrupted to add “male player.” The startled reporter replied, “Beg your pardon?” “Male player,” Murray restated.
So much about this is marvelous, it’s hard to know where to start. First, Murray offered his correction automatically and almost as an aside—albeit a terribly important one. He was just ensuring that the record was accurate. In so doing, his manner was significant. The rather understated way in which he remedied the reporter’s implicit bias (at best) subtly raised the question of how anyone could forget women’s tennis in the age of the Williams sisters. Second, Murray’s lack of drama in his correction allowed—forced?—the reporter to easily adopt Murray’s amendment….”that’s for sure,” the reporter added. Further, after the interchange began making the rounds on the internet, Andy’s mother added her thoughts in a tweet: “That’s my boy.”
So besides the deliciousness of it all, are there any takeaways other than the inherent value in the immediate correction of an error that discounted women’s contributions to the sport? I think there are at least two.
First, the way in which Murray made the correction was, as noted, nearly nonchalant. In this era of heated and hyperbolic rhetoric, a calm statement of corrective fact was an effective balm. As with an orator who lowers her voice to a whisper, or the generally quiet person who only occasionally chimes in, Murray’s audience—as well as his questioner—had no choice but to take notice of what he said. In short, Murray’s manner helped underscore his content.
Second, allies of all shapes, colors, and genders are important. Murray's correction was all the more welcome because he is male. This is especially so when contrasted with the relatively contemporaneous remark by tennis commentator John McEnroe that Serena Williams would be “like 700” if she played the men’s tennis circuit. Male feminists, that’s a good thing.