“The Bad Guy the Rest of his Career” – Reputation Lessons
The Facts: Novak Djokovic, the number one seeded tennis player in the world, was disqualified from the U.S. Open. After losing a point, he hit a tennis ball toward the back of the court. The ball struck a line’s woman in the neck. She fell to the ground, grasping for air. For this, the umpire essentially ejected Djokovic, ruling that he must forfeit the match.
Context: The intent is unclear. Djokovic looked to be annoyed or frustrated after losing a point. He did hit the ball unusually hard. He did not look in the direction that he hit the ball, so it appears that he was not aiming at the line’s woman. The instantaneous look on his face was of surprise. He immediately walked over to apologize and help the woman recover. After being disqualified, he released a statement, calling it, “unintended.”
Verdict: So, after watching the replays and hearing from Djokovic, we should reasonably conclude that he hit the ball in frustration, but he wasn’t trying to hit/harm anyone. This makes him guilty (he hit the ball) without intent (he didn’t mean for it to happen). This reminds me of the legal definition of manslaughter where your actions cause a murder, but you didn’t mean to do it.
Even without intent, the chair umpire decided to eject Djokovic. Typically in tennis, a player receives a warning for the first offense, then a game deduction for a second offense, and a disqualification for the third offense. However, the umpire believed the rules were clear. A player hurt a referee out of frustration and thus, a swift disqualification was warranted. The safety of the staff is of the utmost importance.
Judgment: After the match, famed tennis commentator John McEnroe stated, “Whether he likes it or not, Djokovic will be the bad guy the rest of his career.” In other words, his reputation is irreparably damaged. He image will not be able to recover from his incident.
Your Turn: Given all of this information, do you think Djokovic should have been suspended and do you think his reputation will recover after this situation? Are there any instructive lessons to be learned from this situation?