Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

"Double standard"?! One reason police exist is to enforce rules for baseline human behavior--against murder, stealing, etc. There needs to be a baseline rule of behavior (no tennis pun intended) on the court. The USTA and US Open should perhaps change its rules to include, "any physical threat towards a line judge or chair umpire means immediate default of the match, ejection from the tournament and loss of all prize money accumulated to date from the tournament." Under this rule, Federer would stay in and Serena would be out. Federer did not take his racket and physically threaten a line judge.

To compound the issue, Serena preceded to then lie to the chair umpire and mysteriously remembered her serving strategy for the next point but could not remember what she said to the line judge in her post match interview. Her comments were a disgrace.

So much of the criticism towards the critics of Serena's behavior is like your argument that it is biased, racially motivated, etc. I think that is a poor excuse. We are talking about a baseline of human behavior required on the tennis court during a professional tennis match. They are called professionals for a reason.

So I really hope that there is a rule change so at least the next time this happens, that if a physical threat and berating like Sernea made to the line judge is made again, it will be clearly breaking the rules and it will not matter what race, gender or who the person is. This country is so easily polarized, and to bring double standards and race into this incident only adds fuel to the fire. We are talking about human beings having a bottom line of behavior required on a professional tennis court no matter who they are!

Jeannie Boutelle

Chicago, Il

Sep 17 2009 - 9:53am

Web Letter

I won't repeat what has already been said, eloquently, about one of the most contrived and yes, "indefensible" articles I have read recently. It's almost too ridiculous to comment on, but a few points have yet to be mentioned. As background, I played and taught tennis professionally for several decades, and I especially was sensitive to the importance of growing the sport on a local level. That is one area where the Williams sisters, and particularly Serena, have repeatedly "cheated" the sport that has made them rich and famous.

For years they dabbled in their "other interests"--in Serena's case dress designing, acting and dating producers (such as Rush Hour's Bret Ratner). Clearly, her prerogative; but they also were routinely "blowing off" the lower-profile (i.e., non-Grand Slam) tournaments that form the backbone of the sport and are necessary if it is ever to climb back to its height of the '70s and '80s.

It got so bad, some may recall, that the USTA was forced to issue changes (informally known as "The Williams Rules") that required all touring pros to play in a minimum of fifteen sanctioned tournaments in a calendar year. There is now talk of extending that to eighteen or maybe twenty.

As mentioned, this was done to essentially force the Williams sisters to show up at the less glitzy and lower-prize-money events, since in the United States especially, they are sadly the only significant "draw" that can enable a promoter or sponsor to hope to hold a financially successful tourney. Unless they can advertise in advance that one or both of the Williams women will play, they will have great difficulty being able to "sell" the event.

Serena, in particular, has been flaunting this rule since it was instituted. Many might remember how she showed up in Spain earlier this year, cashed her $250,000 "appearance fee" that she made a requirement of her participation... and then promptly lost listlessly in the first round and hopped the first plane home. This behavior has been repeated at many events around the world.

It got so bad that even Martina Navratilova--after Billie Jean King, one of the strongest advocates and builders of the women's game--remarked, in frustration, of Serena and Venus: "They play in the playoffs, but not the regular season."

So Serena has hardly been the "paragon" that Zirin paints her as, and to my knowledge, has never said a kind word about an opponent who has beaten her--it has always been "all about her" ("I gave it away;" "I wasn't feeling up to par," etc., etc.)

Further, for her to question the correctness of the call is ludicrous. As someone who taught the sports for years, I can assure you that no server could ever know whether their foot has touched the line--we tried to make certain that they were looking at the ball as they made contact! On this particular point, Serena clearly slid her foot forward, and whether it touched or went over the baseline is something she would have no way of knowing.

And as for Zirin's absurd analogy of how it would be like calling a "technical foul at the end of the NBA finals," the less said the better. A foot fault is called because otherwise the server is receiving an unfair advantage--if you could step even a foot inside the line, a 120 mph serve would be virtually untouchable. A technical foul, on the other hand, is assessed for unsportsmanlike behavior. Such as Serena's after her actual court violation.

And what, exactly, would this dedicated woman (linespeople generally work long hours for free) have had as motivation for calling a foot fault at that juncture if she didn't clearly see such a violation? I have served as a line judge, and you are taught to stare at your line at all times when the ball or player on your side is anywhere near it. Unless she's blind or biased, one would expect that she saw something that she is trained and told not to ignore.

The tortured comparison to Federer is also hardly worthy of comment. Except to correct Zirin's disingenuous mention of Roger "verbally assaulting a judge," when he was actually speaking--during a break--to the chair umpire! To equate that exchange with standing over a small, seated lineswoman (let's not forget that Federer was seated while speaking with a man seated ten feet higher than him) is ludicrous. It's like comparing arguing within the bounds toward a home plate umpire with profanely threatening a batboy!

I totally agree with Mary Carillo's insistence that the current $10,500 fine "is a joke." Serena earned $505,000 in prize money for reaching the semis in singles and winning the doubles (which she never should have been allowed to play the final in... her behavior certainly should have resulted in her being "excused" from the tournament).

Which brings up what should be done. Participating in a prestigious Grand Slam tournament is a privilege, not a right. When Jeff Tarango--another "Ugly American," in terms of on-court behavior--walked off the court in a huff at Wimbledon in 1995, the All-England Club declined to invite him back the following year.

Similarly (and even "Tantrum Tarango" didn't threaten an official with bodily harm like Ms. Williams), the United States Tennis Association and organizers of this "privileged" showcase should simply fail to honor Serena's application to play in next year's event.

To do otherwise would mean that they have bowed to pressure from promoters who want Serena to "sell" their event and, alas, CBS--which desires a maximum audience for its telecasts. Neither is sufficient reason to "sell out" their sport.

Chip Walker

Rockville, MD

Sep 16 2009 - 5:55pm

Web Letter

As an admirer of both Serena Williams and Roger Federer, I must take issue with the premise of this article, i.e., that a comparison of their respective outburts during the US Open illuminates the racism and sexism in our society. I am very much aware of the tremendous role model that Serena is for young women, especially young women of color. I have also seen and heard on too many occasions disgusting and dispicable comments about both Venus and Serena made (all too often by young, white men) at that hellish intersection where racism intersects with misogyny. There is no doubt that Serena's power and success terrify too many smaller, weaker and stupider whites. That being said, I was truly upset and saddened by Serena's behavior last week. She was very close to losing an important match (the claim that the call "probably cost her the match" is kind of silly). Whether the linesperson should have called the fault or not is really irrelevant. Serena could have argued that point to the umpire--the powerful person in up in the big, tall chair. Instead she approached the linesperson, brandishing her raquet, and threatened her. Forget the "bad language"; she physically threatened a smaller, less powerful woman. (Two points here: First, I don't think anyone believes she would have threatened a large man that way; and second, if a male player had threatened a small female linesperson like that, he would likely be suspended from the sport for a very long time.)

Serena's loss of control, and resort to violent threats is really troubling. She is clearly wrestling with some demons, and I deeply wish for her to emerge from the battle victorious and healthy. I believe that she will; she has shown us on many occasions that she is a woman of great courage and tremendous inner strength.

It was a troubling incident. But to bring Roger into it? No, not fair. So Roger used a mild scatalogical term during an argument with the chair umpire. There is simply no comparison. No one is claiming that Roger is a saint, or that he didn't let some bad calls (or his own perception of such), and the fact that his serve left town, get to him. But he, for one, kept completely mum on Serena's problem, and has always spoken of her with the highest respect and admiration. He is not part of the problem.

Of course this incident has brought out the creeps and crazy haters of all things not white, and all women not small, blond and wimpy. It's horrible to read their comments... so don't. Let's just remember that our heroes are human and are wrestling with devils, just as we are. And let's leave the facile comparisons and shallow analysis to the right--they do it so much better.

Adele Bartlett

New York, NY

Sep 16 2009 - 4:18pm

Web Letter

Seriously? Not only could Serena Williams receive an Oscar for her inexcusable display, but Mr. Zirin could receive one for his own laughable tirade. Comparing Williams's outburst with Roger Federer's is absolutely ridiculous, and here's why:

1. Williams had already been allowed one temper tantrum when she mangled her racket earlier in the match. This was Federer's first.

2. The line judge was correct in calling a foot fault on Williams. Federer was objecting to a truly unfair call in which the judge allowed del Potro a challenge many seconds after the point had ended.

3. Federer's outburst included only one expletive. It's no secret how much obscenity fell from Williams's lips.

4. Federer threatened no one. Williams audibly threatened the line judge, while walking toward her and pointing her finger at her.

I'm not claiming that no examples of double standards have occurred in professional tennis, but this is clearly not one of them. Should Federer have uttered that obscenity? Of course not. But don't turn this into a sexist, racist controversy, Mr. Zirin. It's not only laughable but it's offensive.

Alyssa Ramsey

Jeffersonville, IN

Sep 16 2009 - 1:41pm

Web Letter

Dave Zirin has done what must of us do not do. He has written about the angry outburst of Serena Williams, while placing it in a larger context by remembering some history that is relevant.

First, as a retired clergyman, I cannot help but suggest that the words Serena Williams spoke in a moment of confrontation, are less than congruent with the religious faith she professes. She has upon ocassion, upon achieving a victotry on the court, expressed verbal appreciation to the God of her faith. All of us who claim religious faith have at times said and done things that were antithetical to the faith that is ours. Saturday night, Serena Williams had a very public moment of speaking and doing that, which was contrary, to the Creator she affirms. Most of us do that in far less public ways. I am sure she has, in her own way, uttered words of confession to her Creator.

How many of those who now vigorously assault Serena Williams for her "Saturday Night Live" performance were just as vigorous in their criticisms of some of the less-than-positive moments the Williams sisters have experienced in tennis? Do we remember when there was such an outcry over Serena and Venus playing each other in the finals of tennis tournaments? Although both of them are American, some wished that someone other than a Williams sister be one of the finalists. And of course there were the accusations that they pre-determined the winner of their matches. Or what about the game that was taken away from Venus at Wimbledon (something that had not happened before or since)? Many times a double fault has ended a match, but how many times has a foot fault done the same? I hope the USTA will use technology to review foot faults called, as it now reviews whether balls are in or out. Should I ask that in this age of statistical coverage, an analysis of foot faults called on the Williams sisters be compared with foot faults called on other players?

Zirin mentions other tennis players who, before Saturday night and after Saturday night, have spoken words that should have been deleted in their emotional responses to something that happened to them during a match. Some of the current penalty rules were put into effect because of the negative antics of some well-known players. Is it fair to act as though because there were no restrictive rules when they played, their actions were acceptable?

I also have a concern that one or two of the tennis TV commentators have their own double standards as they speak of the Williams sisters. Suggesting that Serena should receive an Oscar for her paticipation in a press conference, as well as belittling the fine that was imposed and suggesting that she be suspended from tournament play, says more about the one who makes these comments than it does about Serena. Sometimes as I listen to Ms. Carillo and remember her as a singles player as well as a doubles partner of another commentator, I think she "doth protest too much." The consistency of her criticisms, cannot help but be noted and causes some of us to ask, "Why?"

A friend has reminded me that when Jackie Robinson entered Major League Baseball in 1947 he was told by Branch Rickey and others in the Dodger organization that he should subdue and restrain his personality in order to be "accepted" as baseball's first black player. In time those restrictions were lifted and the "real" Jackie Robinson came forth. Are there those in tennis who believe that in 2009 some type of personality restraint should still be expected of Serena Williams? The USTA has been superb in its sensitivity to issues of gender and race that will not go away. My hope is that the over-the-top criticisms of Serena Williams by some will not deter the USTA from its significant efforts to bridge the barriers that still exist.

Gilbert H. Caldwell

Asbury Park, NJ

Sep 16 2009 - 10:22am

Web Letter

Equating calling a foot-fault with a technical foul isn't exactly correct. The judge saw a fault and called it. Just like if a basketball player stepped out of bounds with two seconds left in the game. It would be called. Period.

Rules are there to be followed. You don't make exceptions just because the game is almost over and the favored player is about to lose. Would you make the same argument if the server was long by 1/4"? Would you argue that it shouldn't be called long because it is an important point? Exactly, you would not. You'd say the pressure got to her and she made a mistake.

As to the core of the article, there is a large difference between using foul language while arguing with a judge verses threatening to harm a judge. She physically threatened the judge. That was beyond what can be tolerated.

Did they both lose their cool? Yes. But Serena went way overboard. Oh, and in case you weren't aware of it, Serena has a tendency to foot-fault. It has been an issue for her in the past.

When it comes down to it, Serena should have known better. So should Federer. But of the two, Serena deserved to apologize.

Bryan Rowland

Hillsboro, OR

Sep 16 2009 - 10:07am

Web Letter

As the first letter states, to draw a comparison between Ms. Williams' behavior and Mr. Federer's behavior is absurd. The Nation only marginalizes itself by publishing such nonsense. Ms. Williams is lucky not to have been suspended for her actions, which would have been the likely result in most other sports.

Brian Greene

Ottawa, Canada

Sep 16 2009 - 8:46am

Web Letter

Hmm. "McEnroe was tossed out of the Aussie Open once for his theatrics--and he didn't even threaten anybody" (according to Alison Walker's letter). There goes the entire racial/sexual double standard dreamed up by Mr. Zirin.

Not too sure what a baseball term for a leftie pitcher has to do with this article but, since Mr. Zirin is an editor, he must know.

Speaking of editing:

1) "The behavior of Federer and Williams in these matches are examples of bad sportsmanship at its worst."

Really? You know of nothing worse that has ever happened in the history of bad sportsmanship in professional sports?

2) "But the double standard is enough to make you want to swallow your tennis ball. When Williams lost it on the court, she later apologized..." So the double standard is that she apologized and he didn't?

3) "If Williams were a petite blonde, like 17-year-old American Melanie Oudin, and was called for a match-ending foot-fault-cum-disqualification, the US Open crowd would have turned Arthur Ashe Stadium into Attica." That was Arthur Ashe Stadium, right? Those horrible racist bastards! (Attica? Attica?! Vas you dere, Sharlie?)

4) "The next day when she played doubles with her sister Venus, Serena Williams was repeatedly heckled." How exactly do we know that she was heckled while her equally black, equally non-country club sister was not?

5) "Her "Americanness" at the US Open was in open question in the way a white player's cultural heritage never would be." Well, son, if you put it in quotes, you must be quoting someone. Exactly who said her "Americanness" at the US Open was in open question? Name names, please. What is your evidence, Mr. Zirin?

Eliezer Pennywhistler

Trenton, NJ

Sep 16 2009 - 7:26am

Web Letter

I am frustrated with editorials that need to draw artificial comparisons for the sake of an "interesting" argument. As some others have indicated, the two situations are not parallel.

Serena clearly verbally assaulted the official for the call that she disagreed with.

Federer clearly was expressing his personal frustration, not over a decision, but in being told that he should basically shut up (i.e., inappropriate behavior of the official after a single question about the call). The statement was not directed at the official.

I am a busy person, and am frustrated that people sometimes write articles for the sake of conversation and controversy, but have no valid point to make.

Susan Cohen

Weston, MA

Sep 16 2009 - 6:54am

Web Letter

Yes, this article was crap. While Roger Federer was wrong for using foul language, his actions were clearly different from Serena's. She looked like a thug out there, trying to intimidate a linesperson, regardless of the call, is inexcusable. She should be thrown out of tennis for a while.

Her outburst did look like a moment of 'roid range, wouldn't be surprised if she were on steroids.

The tennis players of today would do well to follow the examples of Steffi Graf and Bjorn Borg instead of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. There's nothing wrong with having personality. Steffi and Bjorn have personality. The abusiveness and foul language can't be tolerated. Federer should be penalized too, but don't tell me his actions were similar to Serena's! They weren't even close!

K. Albert

Bridgewater, MA

Sep 16 2009 - 6:01am

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.