If Men Can Take Off Their Shirts - Why Can't Women? by Leigh Ernst Friestedt

The Double-Standard in Women's Sports

Digital Media Sports by Leigh Ernst Friestedt

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 - Day 2 of the US Open Tennis Championship in Flushing Meadows, NY - a sweltering day on the courts with the heat index above 100 degrees compounded by excessive humidity creating brutal conditions for players trying to win early rounds at the final Grand Slam of 2018. A heat rule went into effect for the first time ever in the men's game and the players' safety was a real concern with five men retiring on Day 1 due to heat-related ailments.

Players used countless towels and ice in extreme heat and humidity at 2018 US Open

In an effort to stay cool, players used 980 ice towels and 3,400 pounds of ice on court during the first three days of the tournament. The 2018 US Open Champion, Novak Djokovic, took a naked ice bath next to his opponent during a heat rule timeout between the third and fourth sets in his first-round match against Marton Fucsovics. Players went through countless outfits featuring prominent logos drenched in sweat - changing everything from their shirts, shorts, skirts, socks - down to their shoes.

For men, changing their shirts on court is routine but for women - a different set of rules apply
Juan Martin del Potro
Dominic Thiem
Fernando Verdasco

"Unsportsmanlike" Conduct

A different set of rules applied for Alize Cornet (France) when she received an "Unsportsmanlike" code violation for taking off her shirt to turn it around during her first round match against Johanna Larson. Cornet actually changed her shirt in the locker room between the second and third sets, but didn't realize her shirt was on backwards until she returned to the court. Cornet's decision to correct her wardrobe malfunction resulted in the chair umpire issuing an "Unsportsmanlike" code violation which many believe exemplifies the double-standard in women's sports today.

Alize Cornet (France) shirt on backwards at first round 2018 US Open

It's a wardrobe malfunction that could happen to anybody. Stan Warwinka experienced the same problem on Court 5 the next day and played an entire game with his new black shirt on backwards before realizing he needed to turn it around during the changeover. As Warwinka stripped off his drenched shirt to change into a new one, the umpire never contemplated issuing a code violation, and that was after Warwinka broke his racket over his knee in frustration.

Stan Warwinka reverses backwards shirt at 2018 US Open

Confused by the penalty, Cornet didn't let the umpire's warning affect her play and admitted that she lost the match "on her own" during the post game press conference. Cornet thought the umpire made a "mistake", but excused his call - "overwhelmed" by the situation and impacted by the heat. While Cornet was willing to overlook the umpire's mistake, she was less forgiving of the French Tennis Federation President, Bernard Giudicelli, banning the black catsuit worn by Serena Williams at the 2018 French Open.

"What Bernard Giudicelli said about Serena's catsuit was 10,000 times worse than what happened to me on the court." - Alize Cornet
Serena Williams wearing black catsuit at 2018 French Open - Nike


The Cornet "Unsportsmanlike" code violation and Serena catsuit ban exemplify the double-standard women face on and off the court. Women are held to a different standard than men - ironically, it's a higher standard. What is "acceptable" and celebrated for men is deemed as "inappropriate" for women.

For a woman to be successful - she must do it with the added standard of being "ladylike"

The inherent belief that women need to be "ladylike" creates a double-standard that contradicts the image of being a strong athlete. Gender stereotypes create invisible barriers that have impeded the advancement of women for decades. These invisible barriers are difficult to identify and combat, but explain why there are a different set of rules for women.

Controversial images of women taking their shirts off date back to 1999 when Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty kick at the World Cup. Countless male soccer players rip off their shirts to celebrate scoring a goal, but when Brandi Chastain took off her shirt to celebrate the winning penalty kick - it made the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek.

Brandi Chastain celebrates winning goal at 1999 World Cup - Getty Images/Sports Illustrated - Photo by Robert Beck

The disparity between men being able to celebrate by taking off their shirts and women like Cornet being penalized raises the fundamental question:

If Men Can Take Off Their Shirts - Why Can't Women?

Novak Djokovic often celebrates a Grand Slam title by ripping his shirt off. The up- and-coming American, Frances Tiafoe, celebrated his winning streak at the 2019 Australian Open by pounding his bare chest and flexing his biceps after every match. Rafael Nadal takes a more conservative approach changing into new shirts on changeovers and into a sweat top after a match for the post game interview.

Novak Djokovic celebrates victory
Rafael Nadal changes shirt on changeover
Frances Tiafoe flexes bicep

Setting the Record Straight

Cornet walked off the court disappointed that she lost her first round match, but concerned that she would be assessed a fine for "Unsportsmanlike" conduct. Social media erupted with outrage at the umpire's call, and the United States Tennis Association ("USTA") apologized to Cornet. The Women's Tennis Association ("WTA") also issued a formal statement clarifying that Cornet's actions did not constitute a violation.

"The code violation that USTA handed to Alize Cornet during her first match at the US Open was unfair... We are pleased to see the USTA has now changed this policy. Alize did nothing wrong."

Whether a player choses to change his/her shirt on the court or in a more private location such as a locker room is a matter of personal preference. The real issue is whether an athlete's actions exhibit a lack of respect for the game.

Is there a double-standard for what constitutes disrespectful behavior for women?

In the Men's Quarterfinals, John Millman left the court at 2-2 in the second set to change his clothes which were dripping sweat onto the court creating dangerous playing conditions. Novak Djokovic used the unexpected break as an opportunity to recline in his chair shirtless in front of 14,000 fans for several minutes. Was Djokovic's exposure of his chest disresepctful to the game or was his behavior reasonable given the extreme heat conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium?

Novak Djokovic relaxes while opponent (John Millman) changes in locker room - 2018 US Open

While men dictate the rules of the game and define what is acceptable, women must behave within the norms of what society defines as being acceptable. Andre Agassi wore cut off blue jean shorts back in the 1980s, but Serena is criticized for wearing a catsuit. Serena has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and suffers from a life threatening medical condition with blood clots warranting compression in her attire. If Serena wants to wear a catsuit, super hero outfit or tutu for that matter she should. Serena is not being disrespectful to the game - she is expressing herself as a strong female athlete.

Serena Williams - a strong female athlete - 2007 US Open

How an athlete dresses and behaves on court is a refelction of a player's identity. Freedom of expression is paramount to American values - what athletes wear, how they carry themselves, how they sweat, persevere through pain and handle adversity - this is what makes sports great and drives athletes to reach their full potential.

Alize Cornet may have lost her three set match against Johanna Larson, but her match represents a step forward in addressing the inherent double-standard in women's sports today.

February 5, 2019

Digital Media Sports by Leigh Ernst Friestedt
Created By
Leigh Ernst Friestedt

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