Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore said women players ride the coattails of the men in comments before Serena Williams met Victoria Azarenka in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. He apologized later, but not before Williams had a chance to react.
"I think the WTA [Women's Tennis Association] ... You know, in my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men," Moore said, according to multiple reports. "They don't make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have."
Moore, 69, is a former professional player from South Africa who took over as CEO of Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2012, after being associated with the event for decades.
Williams was asked about Moore's comments in her postmatch news conference.
"Obviously, I don't think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that," she said. "I think Venus [Williams], myself, a number of players have been -- if I could tell you every day how many people say they don't watch tennis unless they're watching myself or my sister, I couldn't even bring up that number. So I don't think that is a very accurate statement. I think there is a lot of women out there who are more ... are very exciting to watch. I think there are a lot of men out there who are exciting to watch. I think it definitely goes both ways. I think those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate."
Williams was asked if Moore's comments could have been misconstrued.
"Well, if you read the transcript, you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I'm sure he does too," she said. "You know, there's only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not -- we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point."
Williams said she was surprised to hear sexist remarks such as Moore's these days.
"Yeah, I'm still surprised, especially with me and Venus and all the other women on the tour that's done well," she said. "Last year, the women's final at the US Open sold out well before the men. I'm sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men's final? I think not.
"So I just feel like, in order to make a comment, you have to have history, and you have to have facts, and you have to know things. You have to know of everything. I mean, you look at someone like Billie Jean King, who opened so many doors for not only women's players but women's athletes in general. So I feel like, you know, that is such a disservice to her and every female -- not only a female athlete but every woman on this planet -- that has ever tried to stand up for what they believed in and being proud to be a woman."
King later responded to Moore's comments on Twitter:
Disappointed in #RaymondMoore comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) March 20, 2016
Former player and current ESPN analyst Pam Shriver said it was a "sad irony [that] these comments were made on a day we should have been celebrating Serena getting back to a final and all the forgiveness and recovery made after all that happened 15 years ago."
Talking about the state of women's tennis, Moore said Williams is "arguably the best female player of all time." He also said, "I think the WTA have a handful -- not just one or two -- but they have a handful of very attractive prospects that can assume the mantle. You know, [Garbine Muguruza], Genie Bouchard. They have a lot of very attractive players. And the standard in ladies' tennis has improved unbelievably."
Asked to clarify if he was talking about physical attractiveness or competitive attractiveness, Moore responded, "I mean both. They are physically attractive and competitively attractive. They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena decides to stop. I think they've got ... they really have quite a few very, very attractive players."
Steve Simon, Moore's longtime colleague at Indian Wells and predecessor as tournament director, became the WTA's CEO last fall.
"As the Tournament Director of one of the pre-eminent events in professional tennis, the comments made today by Raymond Moore were extremely disappointing and alarming," Simon said in a statement. "The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment. I am proud of all the strong athletes on the WTA who put in hard work and sacrifice every single day.
"Tennis as a whole is enriched by the contributions and accomplishments of every player, both female and male."
Moore later apologized in a written statement.
"At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous," he said. "I am truly sorry for those remarks and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women's final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."
Azarenka defeated Williams 6-4, 6-4 for the women's title. Afterward, she was asked if Moore's apology was disingenuous, given the nature of his comments.
"I'm trying not to think about it. ... I'm not going to bring somebody down. I'm just going to rise above that," Azarenka said. "Today, I think it was a great match. It was a great day for women's sport.
"Why can't we just be happy and enjoy and support each other? Because that's what the world is missing a little bit. It's the support toward each other. Not just bashing and, oh, who is prettier or who is this, who has more, who has less. Let's just take care of each other."
Azarenka said such criticism of women remains an issue in the world, including in the fields of sports and business.
"Well, if you read the transcript, you can only interpret it one way. ... Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not -- we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point." Serena Williams on whether Raymond Moore's comments could have been misconstrued
"What women do best is rise above those comments. You don't hear complaints or bad comments towards men," she said. "If we rise above that and keep working hard in everything we do, we're better. We're better at taking opportunities and being graceful. It's our duty to keep just working hard through whatever comments there is."
Last year at Wimbledon, Azarenka spoke out about the apparent double standard in tennis when it comes to grunting during matches. She pointed out that while female players are routinely peppered with questions about their on-court noises, that's not the case for their male counterparts, who grunt just as much.
When asked Sunday about those comments and whether she has embraced being a leader for women as she has gotten older, Azarenka said, "I believe in giving back to a sport that gave me so much. I'm very passionate. I see how hard it is to make something out of yourself and stand your ground, so I believe that it's my duty for players maybe after me or during this time to really have this respect for our sport."
Djokovic was coached by a woman early in his career, and he noted that women pros often delay or sacrifice having families to play professionally, a dilemma men don't face.
"I have tremendous respect for what women in global sport are doing and achieving," he said. "I'm completely for women power."
Two WNBA stars, Swin Cash and Tina Charles, also denounced Moore's comments.
"It's extremely disappointing hearing Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore's comments and knowing sentiments like this are still voiced in 2016. As we approach our 20th year of the [New York] Liberty, we are asking everyone to support women everywhere, not tear them down," Cash and Charles said in a joint statement. "We stand with our fellow athletes of the Women's Tennis Association, and we invite Raymond Moore and the other 'Raymond Moores of the world' to re-evaluate their stereotypes and biases. In the meantime, we'll continue to be leaders on and off of the court."
Information from ESPN's Jim Caple and The Associated Press was used in this report.