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Serena’s Attitude Wins at US Open

September 14, 2011

I am an unabashed tennis watcher – I haven’t played since high school and don’t profess to be an expert. But this past weekend’s US Open has brought to light something that no sports fan should put up with. And you don’t even have to be a tennis fan to understand the concept.

I have seen poor sportsmanship explained away for years. When most major sporting bodies began to fine and suspend athletes for disreputable behaviour (to their respective leagues generally), I had hope that these famous people would get the point that, as role models, they should hold themselves accountable for their actions.  In actual fact, most of the stars have gotten off scott free and continue to act like juvenile delinquents.

Homerism in the form of ‘patriotism’ is rampant in sports broadcasting.  All one has to do is listen to the broadcasts of the recent Olympic Games.  The US Open broadcast was no different, although it was heightened by the fact that the event was held on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and in New York.  The athletes were, by and large, respectful in memorializing the lives lost.  Realistically? The tennis had nothing to do with it.

After her semi-final win, Serena Williams thanked the crowd for their great support and professed that she was doing everything, as an American, to win in New York in memory of those lost. This was a wonderful sentiment and was truly appreciated by the crowd.  Her follow-on performance however, left much to be desired.  Americans should be truly ashamed of how their athlete conducted herself during the championship match.

There is no contesting the fact that Serena is a tremendous athlete and excellent tennis player. She is also a vibrant personality, of which there are very few in women’s or men’s tennis at this time. This does not give her license to disrespect her opponent or the officials in the manner displayed in the final. A call did not go her way and she then proceeded to address a personal verbal attack to the umpire for which she was assessed a code violation. The fact that she has done this before and been fined is telling, because obviously the large fine ($82,500) and probationary period she received in 2009 were an insufficient deterrent.

The incident was investigated and there was a possibility that any fine she might receive could be influenced by her probationary status. Instead, the ruling body determined that “After independently reviewing the incident which served as the basis for the code violation, and taking into account the level of fine imposed by the U.S. Open referee, the Grand Slam Committee Director has determined that Ms. Williams’ conduct, while verbally abusive, does not rise to the level of a major offense under the Grand Slam Code of Conduct.” (Brian Earley, U.S. Open Tournament referee)  Given the opportunity to punish a high-level athlete for conduct detrimental to the WTA.  Essentially, she was given a slap on the wrist and will continue to act the way she has because she can.

What does this say to the official? The umpire’s decision was upheld, but she faces similar abuse every time she officiates. Sports are supposed to engender respect for yourself, your opponent(s) and the officials. Many young athletes look up to and admire the star athletes in their chosen sport. So far we’ve seen shootings, drug misconducts and other felonies committed and although they are prosecuted and may face jail time, the stars can still try to return, because their faults will be forgiven if they can still play. This is not the message I think we should be giving our young stars-in-making.

For those of you who watched John McEnroe and others perform similarly or worse, I would hope that not only would you think their actions were just as bad, but that continuing inaction is worse.  I agree, Serena’s outbursts are not felonious, but they should be addressed by the sporting association in a manner that will deter future occurrences.  What does it say when she makes $1.4 m and is fined only $2k? Keep going Serena – we want to see you at the year-end championships so we can all make money.

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