Monday, September 14, 2009

A brife detour into the world of sports

I used to write about sports n this blog a lot more. Now I do most of that elsewhere, concentrating on politics and the media. But with Sarena Williams I'm going to make an exception. The open is, after all, one of the great New York events, and I've seen both Williams and Kim Clijsters play there in the past.

It's tempting to see the reaction to Sarena Williams' meltdown at the U.S. Open as being tinged with racism, and perhaps, in some instances, it is. Williams, down a set and facing elimination to eventual champion Clijsters, went on an angry tirade after a line judge called her for a foot fault. Earlier in the match she had broken a racket in anger and received a warning. Her explosion over the foot fault, in which she said she would "f*ing shove this ball down your f*ing throat," cost her another point, but as a result of the foot fault, it happened to be match point. She lost. She received a $10,000 fine. She was unrepentant in her press conference but later apologized. She could receive a much larger fine of up to 1.6 million dollars (the rules on a major infraction say "up to $250,000 or the amount of prize money for the tournament, whichever is greater" but that is mostly for people who are found to have cheated and then won). She could also be permanently banned from Majors. Nobody thinks either of those will happen (though a larger fine is likely). She and her sister are playing today in the doubles final, which many people felt she should have been disqualified for. She finally apologized to the line judge today.

All fair and good. But some of the reaction has been very nasty. I have read on various internet sites that she was a fraud and a coward, that the outburst was calculated because she new she was going to loose to Clijsters and didn't want to loose on the court. She has been called a bully and a thug and far worse. I think there is definitely a racist undertone to some of these comments. It is pointed out in several of the articles that the Williams sisters are from Compton (though, to be fair, Ms. Williams pointed that out herself at her press conference). The stupidest comments are those that claimed she was a coward and simply didn't want to face being beaten by Clijsters. Williams has fought back from the brink of defeat before. It's as if the people writing this garbage don't recall that she is one of the greatest tennis players of all time and was at that moment the defending U.S. Open champion. Beyond a doubt, some of the people writing this stuff are painting her with a racist brush, making her out to be some kind of black gang banger from South Central who has somehow crashed the gates of the all white, genteel party that is big time tennis. It's as if these folks have never even heard of Arthur Ashe (and no, Ashe would never have melted down the way Williams did, but the same language was used against Ashe that is now, once again, being thrown at Williams).

But just as such demeaning language should not be thrown at Williams, so too not everyone who is criticizing her, not even the ones saying she is a bully and a thug, should automatically be considered racists. Tennis *is* a genteel party, and there are strict rules of conduct which Williams broke. She did threaten the line judge. She did lose it.

Some have pointed to John McEnroe and the way he is looked at as evidence that Willimas is getting a raw deal. After all, Johnny Mac is a hero in this town. He is celebrated as a "lovable bad boy" for his famous "You cannot be serious!" explosions (McEnroe, while condemning how far she went, defended Williams, saying that he couldn't see the fault and anyway it shouldn't have been called at that critical instant--consistent with his long time criticism of umpiring in tennis). But people forget that McEnroe was not always celebrated for his outbursts. At the time much of the same language, Bully, Thug, etc., was leveled at him. Condemnation was near universal in the sporting press and general community--except in New York City, where such outbursts are part of the fabric of daily life, and are seen as a constitutional right. So if the white guy from New York can be called a bully and a thug for yelling at the umpires, it's not really racist--in and of itself--to say the same thing about the black woman from Compton.

Me, I'm disappointed whenever the Williams Sisters lose.

But I sure do love the U.S. Open!


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