- Gender equality will remain out of reach as long as men play tennis and women play women's tennis. Murray always recognized that language has consequence.
Andy Murray rarely keeps quiet. If you’ve ever watched him play, especially in person, you know he doesn’t shut up. He grunts on every shot. He yelps while he chases down a ball. He berates himself. He howls and barks at his own player’s box, like a dog in a long-running feud with the backyard pool. If you were both riding the New York City subway, his frenzied demeanor and aimless muttering might prompt you to change cars.
Murray, who announced Friday that he would soon retire, was many things over his career—Grand Slam champion, gold medalist, world No. 1, recurring runner-up, and at times, it must be said, a kvetch—but he was never silent. And whether you find his on-court chirping endearing or irritating, it’s the noise he makes off the court that reveals his true character.
Murray is an outspoken, unabashed feminist. His clear sense of moral conviction regarding gender equality distinguishes him from his ATP peers, most of whom broadly support the women’s game but don’t ever speak forcefully against sexism. That Murray actively advocates for equality, in both his words and actions, might be his most admirable legacy.
Sexism, both casual and structural, continues to plague tennis. Murray, to his immense credit, stands out as a global superstar who wasn’t ever afraid to highlight injustice. He strongly supports equal pay, even calling out fellow male players who believe men deserve a greater share of prize mone; He believes women deserve more leadership positions, including coaching roles; He has criticized tournament scheduling that favors men. Recently, after Norweigan soccer star Ada Hegerberg was asked a blatantly sexist question after receiving the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or, Murray called the incident “another example of the ridiculous sexism that still exists in sport.” He continued, “Why do women still have to put up with that s---? I’ve been involved in sport my whole life and the level of sexism is unreal.”
Throughout his decorated career, Murray refused to tolerate casual misogyny. At the 2016 Olympics, after a journalist congratulated Murray for becoming the first player to win back-to-back gold medals, he responded by reminding the questioner that Venus and Serena Williams “have won about four each.” The following year, after he lost to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, a reporter noted Querrey was the first American player to reach the semifinals since 2009. Murray issued a quick correction: “male player.” Even for one of the tour’s best returners, it was an especially potent rejoinder.
Most men would have simply ignored such slights. It’s easier that way—pass them off as innocuous slips of the tongue. Mere trivialities. But gender equality will remain out of reach as long as men play tennis and women play women’s tennis. Murray, one of the sport’s best-ever anticipators, always recognized that language has consequences.
Murray’s feminism, to be sure, is not revolutionary. For decades, women have advocated tirelessly for equality in tennis, and they deserve credit for sparking progress. Yes, the two-time Wimbledon champion merits praise for supporting the women’s game, but make no mistake: Women—from Billie Jean King to Venus Williams and so many others—have carried tennis this far. Still, all-too-few male athletes have spoken out passionately or consistently about the pervasiveness of gender inequality. In his refusal to remain silent, Murray became an invaluable ally.
Murray wasn’t always so outwardly progressive. “I've never set out to be a spokesperson for women's equality,” he acknowledged in a 2017 piece for BBC. Even in 2013, he didn’t fully support equal pay, arguing that women ought to play best-of-five sets at Grand Slams to earn the same as men. But his decision in 2014 to hire Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, and the sexist backlash that followed, changed his perspective, especially after critics derided her after his losses—something, he noticed, that didn’t happen with his previous coaches.
"Have I become a feminist?” Murray wrote in a 2015 column for L’Equipe. “Well, if being a feminist is about fighting so that a woman is treated like a man then yes, I suppose I have." Basic decency, perhaps, but in the hyper-masculine world of professional sports, that commitment to equality certainly qualifies as courage. And while his ideology sounds simple, his WTA colleagues clearly find his advocacy meaningful.
"He was always my favorite, and I think it will be a huge loss for tennis in general, but also for the WTA,” Andrea Petkovic said after Murray announced his impending retirement. “Because even nowadays, when you think everything is equal, you still need men, especially successful men, to speak up for women." Female players, Heather Watson wrote in a tribute to Murray, are “so grateful for how you always fight in our corner.”
.@andy_murray You are a champion on and off the court. So sorry you cannot retire on your own terms, but remember to look to the future. Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come. Your voice for equality will inspire future generations. Much love to you & your family. https://t.co/AQUOP3LGec— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 11, 2019
Whenever Murray does retire, tennis will lose one of its greatest players and competitors. But as Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter, Murray’s “voice for equality will inspire future generations.” He won’t walk away quietly.