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Neil Harman Will Take His ****ing Opinions and Shove Them … You Know the Rest

Posted by gauloises1 on October 2, 2009

Anyone who reads this blog on a semi- or even quasi-regular basis will be familiar with my love-hate relationship with Neil Harman, tennis correspondent for The Times.

Anyway, he’s weighed on in the whole Serena foot-fault incident:

With more than 1,200,000 views of one 54-second clip on YouTube alone, it is the abiding minute of the 2009 US Open. Serena Williams held nothing back in a racket-brandishing, expletive-laden tirade at a lineswoman in the women’s singles semi-final last month and the governors of the sport may do likewise with a decision that could have enormous repercussions for the American.

Her penalty is being considered by the ITF, the world governing body, and the world No 2 and winner of 11 grand-slam singles titles has little more than two weeks to give her version of events. The authorities will then decide if what she said and the way she said it merit further action, whether she should be docked the money she earned at Flushing Meadows this year or, most grievous of all, be suspended from one or possibly two grand-slam tournaments.

There is precedent for such a lengthy ban. […] Given that this is deemed a “major offence”, the ITF has received reports from the unnamed lineswoman, Louise Engzell, the umpire, Brian Earley, the tournament referee, and Donna Kelso, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour supervisor. There has been much toing and froing between Williams’s legal team and the international governing body and it now has to be determined whether the player wants to defend herself in person.

Once Bill Babcock, the ITF grand-slam administrator, has heard the evidence — including the full, unexpurgated tape of the tirade — it will be up to him to make a determination on what the punishment should be. That recommendation will go to the four chairmen of the grand-slam events for verification. Williams, 28, would have leave to appeal to an independent tribunal should she not agree with the extent of the punishment.

Opinion has been varied and voluble on the affair. Jon Wertheim, of Sports Illustrated, the American magazine, wrote: “Serena got a very shaky call, but that hardly justified her reaction. She messed up. She apologised, albeit belatedly. She got fined. She took some of her aggression out on Liezel Huber and Cara Black in the doubles final. Not a proud moment for her or for tennis, but let’s move on. If the ITF suspends her or fines her further, it will be a miscarriage of justice.”

One is loath to disagree with such an eminent writer, but Williams’s actions cannot be summarily swept under the carpet. Whether the lineswoman’s call was correct or not, she was there to arbitrate and did so honestly. Such language would not be tolerated in any sport and tennis has a responsibility to protect every official from grass roots up from such a verbal onslaught.

14 Responses to “Neil Harman Will Take His ****ing Opinions and Shove Them … You Know the Rest”

  1. Mlle. Marseillaise (a.k.a Joan) said

    I disagree totally but I’ll only bring up two points.

    1) Getting fined, issuing a public apology (no matter how crappy it was) and having the whole tennis world on your case about it is not sweeping the situation under the rug.

    2)”Such language would not be tolerated in any sport.” I’m sorry but that’s a filthy lie. Tennis and other country club sports are basically the only sports in which participants turn their noses up at swearing. All the major sports such as basketball and football have their fair share of profanity-laced tirades against referees and no one says boo.

  2. AmyLu said

    Mlle. Marseillaise, completely agree on both points. If this had happened in any other major sport, the player in question would have been ejected and fined. And that would be about the extent of it. I also happen to think there’d be less uproar over this issue if it was a male player who’d melted down in that manner.

  3. irefusetotellyou said

    Agreed, Joan and AmyLu … there was an article in the New York Times a few weeks ago which basically boiled down all the Serena footgate hullaballoo to sexism, which I think is true. Most women athletes (except for, I dunno, wrestlers) are expected to be competitive but NOT TOO COMPETITIVE and aggressive but NOT TOO AGRESSIVE lest they violate their delicate flower-like nature.

    Could go on and on but I’ll cut it short. 🙂

  4. CB said

    Neil Harman is absolutely right.

    To adress the previous comments:

    1. The statement “swept under the carpet” is a bit exaggerated but Serena got away with a ridiculously small fine and was allowed to play the doubles final. True, there was plenty of media coverage but surely bad PR is not a punishment in itself.

    2. Cursing might be generally accepted in sports but threatening comments towards officials is not. Serena’s words would have resulted in a suspension in almost any other sport.

    3. The notion that there are different standards for men and women might be true in general, but not in this case. Had a male player said the same things, it would have created similar outrage.

  5. CB said

    Amy, Serena was not ejected! She was given a point penalty.

  6. C.F. said

    CB, I disagree on the “ridiculously small fine” thing. Yes, terribly small for her. Like Federer’s fine, which was pretty pathetic considering how much money he has. But the problem is that, in tennis, we may have a rich top 30, but there’s a much bigger group of men and women who work very hard and still struggle. They can’t have different fines considering how much money the person has in the bank (or the accusation would be a different one – “oh, such big fines, they’re being scapegoats because they’re famous”). I believe the fine is proportional to the offense, and it can be applied to Mr. #200 who makes a living playing challengers and futures but who could have been the LL on a Slam draw. I may be wrong, of course, but that’s the information I have.

    I think Serena’s and Federer’s fine may have been silly for them, but it would have been a very big one for all players here in my country, for example. That amount of money means something to most players who have to try to get some money by winning challengers, have travelling expenses to pay, have to pay their coaches and so on. To most players, tennis is a job, a normal job that pays ok but that generates way too many expenses – just like working at a fancy law firm requires you to spend most of your salary on expensive suits. I think these guys who have families to support and “need the job” (My country’s Marcos Daniel comes to mind) will think twice before having an outburst, because they certainly won’t want to waste that kind of money.

  7. CB said

    Of course they can have different fines depending on how much money the player makes/earns.
    That is how the regular justice system works in many countries.

  8. AmyLu said

    CB, I never said Serena was ejected. Please don’t put words into my mouth that I didn’t say. I’m well aware that Serena received a point penalty. I happen to think that if the point penalty hadn’t happened on match point (and effectively ended the match) that Serena should have been defaulted.

    My comment was that in other sports (basketball, baseball, soccer, etc), I believe a player would have been ejected and fined. The fine would have been much more severe, but tennis officials fined Serena the maximum amount they were allowed under the rules. So if you believe the fine was too paltry, which I do, the issue is with the rules. I’m not going to blame tennis officials for following the rules that are in place. In fact, I think it would be far more disturbing if they arbitrarily decided to disregard the rules that are set for governing the game. I also happen to think that suspensions in team sports are far less severe of a penalty than they are in an individual sport like tennis so I don’t think you can equate a suspension in one sport to a suspension in another.

  9. AmyLu said

    With regard to fines, I think a system that fines a player based on a percentage of the money the player earned in the particular tournament would be an effective system. That way the fine can “hurt” players of differing “income levels,” if you will, in a similar manner. I don’t know exactly how I’d write the rules, but I think different penalties should have different levels of fines. For example, audible obscenity is fined 5% of a player’s earnings for the tournament, all the way to a default leads to the forfeiture of all prize money in that event. That’s just my thoughts off the top of my head, without really thinking it through. But anyway, that rules toward fines are on the list of things I would change if I were in charge of tennis.

  10. C.F. said

    CB and AmyLu, yes, maybe it would be fairer to have different penalties applied to different incomes, though I still think that it could also generate criticism, but if it were to change, it’s something that should be written as a rule beforehand, and then applied. Maybe the recent incidents might be of use and they could create this rule, but without it, I don’t think they could have done any differently in Serena’s and Federer’s case. Until now, the fine is the same. And being the same, it’s high enough for most players.

  11. CB said

    Amy, I did not say you said she was ejected. But one could get the impression you thought so.

    Anyway, the rules are obviously a bit strange. If they want to deter from bad behaviour, the fines must sting a little.

    Had Serena played womens soccer or WNBA, I think she would have been suspended for a few matches. Of course, it is difficult to compare a suspension in WNBA with a suspension in tennis. Serena probably wouldnt care about a 4 week suspension but she would get very upset if she was suspended from the next Grand Slam. I dont think the ITF or WTA would want Serena to miss out on Melbourne.

    I think your post about fines was excellent.

  12. AmyLu said

    C.F., completely agree with you on the rules — I don’t think fines could be retroactively enforced, but I wouldn’t be opposed to changing the rules for future offenses.

    CB, I think what complicates the whole suspension matter is who has jurisdiction over what tournaments. I don’t know if the ITF would be able to suspend Serena from lower tournaments? I think the WTA might have to do that? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question — as closely as I follow and love tennis, I still find it somewhat confusing who is in charge of what. 🙂 My impression was that the suspensions being discussed were for future grand slams, but again, I may not be right on that.

  13. lauren said

    Completely ignoring for a moment the size of fine and possible future actions: why is the audible obscenity the crux of this issue? Who gives a f*** about whether someone said f*** when what’s more important is that a person personally threatened another individual, repeatedly, publicly, with extreme body language. I can’t see that aggressive intimidation suddenly goes from ok to unacceptable because a juicy bit of Anglo-Saxon was thrown in for good measure.

    Then again, that’s because I swear a lot.

  14. Carrie said

    I don’t think the threatening would have ever been acceptable. Curse words or no curse words. For me- Serena swearing was not the issue. Her threatening to push a ball down someones throat? Completely unacceptable to me.

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