broadsideblog

Serena Williams' Outburst — Boorish Or Just One Of The Boys?

In sports, women on September 14, 2009 at 8:50 am
w:Serena Williams hitting a return in 2006.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s the moment any competitive athlete dreads, whether Little League or the U.S. Open — a lousy (you’re sure) call by the umpire or referee line judge. You’re wrong and about to lose the match/set/game/championship/lots of money.

Serena Williams usually makes news for being an astounding athlete, but her profanity-laced outburst at the U.S. Open on Saturday, writes NY Daily News columnist Filip Bondy:

“goes beyond etiquette, into the realm of gender roles. Serena’s poor sportsmanship is a sort of breakthrough, proof that women athletes can behave every bit as irrationally as men. And because of that, it would be a mistake to punish Williams more than a man for the same actions.”

The video clip on YouTube offers four “bleeps”, four words broadcasters couldn’t share with us. As John McEnroe told the Star-Ledger, she’s fought back from such calls before.

Fans booed her and she’s being fined $10,500, the maximum. Whatever you think of her behavior, being a totally driven machine is what propels many great athletes to the very top of their game. John McEnroe was a legend in his time for verbally abusing judges, while a woman pro athlete with a potty-mouth (how many are there?) never wins many fans.

If you’ve ever competed at a high level athletically — (for four years, I was a nationally ranked saber fencer, a sport that awards points for aggression) —  you know the ferocity some competitors bring to their game. What the peanut gallery doesn’t know, and can never understand if they’ve never felt it, is the push of that internal engine driving some people past “polite” into profanity. When that athlete is a woman, it’s considered an even greater breach of etiquette.

Is that a fair call?

  1. I think your take is a very fair one. I also think that she went too far, as do many elite athletes, in the heat of competition. Further, when a Black woman becomes viscerally angry, the effect is amplified because of stereotypes, etc.

    Anyway, earlier today Serena issued an amended, full apology. So we probably won’t hear too much more about it in a week or so.

  2. I think the double taboo of an angry/profane woman and an angry/profane black woman does amp this beyond just one more pissed-off athlete.

    I think it’s also interesting, as a few others have noted, that she’s likely to be (fairly or not) compared to 1) other females 2) other black athletes 3) other tennis plays — and Federer is seen as ultra-polite. So is Tiger Woods. I don’t envy her and her sister as being, in many ways, role models. They’re still human.

    As a fencer, I used to get in trouble from my coach and team-mates for my temper. It’s BS, but women are always (?) expected to remain calm, cool, restrained. You don’t get to the highest levels of sport (or perhaps anything) without tremendous drive. When people (umps, refs, competitors) thwart that drive, it can, and did, get ugly.

  3. If a man had chosen off an official in any major sport – baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or soccer – in the same threatening manner as Serena Williams – be he black or white – they would have faced a huge suspension and major monetary fines from the league. It was just this past season that Serena accused Maria Jose Sanchez of not copping to being hit by a ball (it would have been a point against Sanchez, it went against Serena because it was long). She threatened to “get her” in the locker room afterward. The Williams sisters had a reputation in California Junior tennis for intimidation with words and looks. They have always been bad losers, never acknowledging how well another player performed, instead focusing on their own “bad day.” It was bad timing for the foot fault call but it was evident she served with her foot on the line. Spin it the way you want, she should face major disciplinary action. Tom Medlicott

  4. I wonder if she will. Why do you think she did not?

  5. I think someone figured that her $10,000.00 fine was approx three per cent of the 350 K she won in the quarter finals. She played again today, superbly, with her sister Venus and won the Open doubles title. Her share was $220,000.00. There was a rumor she might have been suspended from playing the doubles match. She was not. Also, a rumor that she would not receive her prize money until this was sorted out. Do you think the Open officials are concerned about the perception of racism? A lot of us were athletic competitors and I have never seen a tirade as threatening to an official as the Serena scene the other night. The girls have a fascinating story and they are incredible tennis players and this incident will not overshadow Serena’s legacy. It was very difficult and surprising to watch the type of behavior that young tennis players are coached to not display. A physical threat is also illegal.

    • Actually, there is something worse.

      In 2001, after losing a match at Wimbledon, Andre Agassi hit a ball at a lineswoman he had been arguing with for the whole match. The lineswoman barely got out of the way in time before the ball smashed into the partition behind her. He claimed he was “just hitting the ball.” Um, after the match is over?

      Agassi went further than threats, he took a shot at the lineswoman using his ball and racket.

      He was fined $2,000 and given no suspension.

      Serena was fined $10,000 and she didn’t actually take any physical action against anyone.

      As for the profane tirade, just watch McEnroe’s old videos on YouTube to see how profane tennis players can get. Heck, Jimmy Connors once called an umpire “an abortion.”

      If Serena gets suspended, tennis ought to be ashamed of its double standard. There should only be one set of rules for everyone.

      • I agree with no double standards and I’m sure a lot more stuff goes on that is unreported by the media because the players involved do not have the status of a Serena, McEnroe, etc. My local police told me a few years ago that a verbal physical threat is a “terrorist threat” because it extends into the future. I love Tiger but wish he would keep it a little more under control sometimes. There are also rumors that “roid-rage” was involved. Tom

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