Serena Williams – Poor Sport or Class Act?

Serena Williams – Poor Sport or Class Act?

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Serena Williams played Naomi Osaka in the final round of the U.S. Open for the opportunity to become the Women’s Singles 2018 Champion. To win, the victor has to win two out of three sets. Osaka won the opening set, 6-2 and was up a break in the second set. At this point, the umpire provided Serena a warning for “coaching”, saying that her coach in the coach’s box was using hand signals to coach. A few minutes later, Serena lost a game and slammed her racket to the ground. For this act, the umpire penalized her a point. Serena became even more upset and demanded that the umpire apologize. When he refused, Serena called him a “cheat,” and accused him of stealing a point from her. The umpire penalized Serena a game for verbal abuse. For the record, he followed the protocol of 1st offense, warning; 2nd offense, point penalty; 3rd offense, game penalty. The score was now 5-3 in the second set. Serena then held serve and Osaka finished the match by doing the same, winning the championship, 6-2, 6-4.

Serena Was a Poor Sport Argument: Hey, just like in any sport, there are rules and penalties for breaking the rules. The person who decides if a player breaks the rules is the umpire or referee. This umpire decided that Serena violated the rules three times and he provided the appropriate punishments for such violations. Serena was outraged after being assessed a warning for receiving coaching from her coach’s box. Serena argued, “I don’t cheat to win. I would rather lose.” Serena was outraged that someone would impugn her character. The problem, of course, is that that after the match, her coach admitted that he was coaching, sending her signals to approach the net more often. Serena couldn’t let it go. Some would argue that she had a meltdown. She demanded that the umpire issue her an apology. Seriously, when is the last time an umpire in any sport issued a public apology during a game? She then lost a game badly and slammed her racket to the ground, demolishing the racket. This is equivalent to a football player throwing his helmet, which is an unsportsmanlike penalty. In this case, the umpire followed protocol for a 2nd warning, issuing a point penalty. This further impacted Serena. She couldn’t let these issues go. Serena walked up to the umpire and said, “You owe me an apology. I have never cheated. I have a daughter and I stand for what’s right for her.” The umpire listened appropriately and play continued. A few minutes later, Serena called him a cheat and accused him of stealing a point. That’s when the umpire decided that this was a 3rd violation (verbal abuse) and provided the penalty for a 3rd offense, a game penalty. Serena then called for the referee. She argued that the umpire was sexist, saying that he would never have treated a man like this. “There are men out here who do much worse,” exclaimed Serena. “Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me.” Please, I don’t hear other athletes bringing their children and gender into sports arguments. Serena lost it, plain and simple. She acted like a baby, and when she couldn’t win her argument, she acted self-righteous and played the role of a victim. Bottom line – she was a poor sport. If this were any other sport, she would have been penalized or ejected from the game. The umpire followed the protocol of tennis. Serena has no one to blame other than herself.

Serena was a Class Act Argument: I have been watching tennis my entire life. I am a fan of tennis. To begin, I have never seen an umpire issue a coaching violation, despite seeing coach’s provide signals during almost every match. As Serena’s coach stated after the match, “I was coaching, like 100% of the coaches in 100% of the matches. We need to end this hypocrite thing.” So, if this happens all the time, I believe that the umpire used poor judgment when he issued a warning in the final set of a U.S. Open Finals. Serena probably wasn’t even looking at her coach, which is why she became so irate. The umpire impugned her character, which means a lot to her. She wanted a public apology to set the record straight. This was a principled argument that goes way beyond any game.

On the second offense, the umpire penalized Serena for breaking her racket. This was not her best moment. I am okay with this penalty, but isn’t a player allowed to express some emotion, some frustration? She didn’t throw her racket. She didn’t swear. She does has 5 others in her bag. What’s the harm, really?

After watching tennis my entire life, I can tell you about some epic rants by tennis players. This was not one of them. Serena wanted an apology, when she didn’t get one, she called him a cheat. She did this while sitting down and then walked away. She didn’t swear. She didn’t lose her cool. She rationally argued her points and defended her honor. I wouldn’t say that being called a cheat equates to verbal abuse. In fact, it was the umpire who did not exercise restraint, not Serena. He should not have penalized her a game in the 2nd set of the U.S. Open Finals. He should have used better discretion in this situation, knowing that a game penalty would virtually end the match. It’s akin to placing a man in the penalty box for “pushing” during the final two minutes of game 7 of the Stanley Cup in Hockey. And, the fans knew it. They booed the umpire. He was not even acknowledged after the match, which is customary. Even when the referee came out to mediate, Serena’s main argument was that this was “unfair.” I agree. The umpire blew it.

The match ends. Naomi Osaka becomes the first man or woman to win a grand slam title from Japan. She beat her idol to do it. She must have been so excited, right? No, she was crying and pulled her hat down over her face. The fans were booing. Osaka felt they were booing her. During the award ceremony, Serena put her arm around Osaka and said things to make her smile. Reporter Tom Renaldi asked her to put this into perspective. Serena essentially responded by saying lets give credit where credit is due. She urged the crowd not to boo anymore and to stay positive. Serena changed the mood of the crowd. Serena could have ranted and aired her grievances. Instead, she gave Osaka the spotlight. For that, I say Serena acted with class and grace.

Your Turn: What did you think of Serena’s behavior? Was she more of a poor sport or more of a class act?

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