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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More on Serena

THIS IS A GUEST POST FROM BRETT KAPLAN, A FORMER COMPETITIVE TENNIS PLAYER

When competing, especially on the field/court, it's very hard at times to keep one's emotions in check. Yet that's exactly what is expected, especially of the people whom we pay to watch and make millions playing a sport. But honestly, it's just not human nature. You can't expect someone to play as hard as they can, want to compete and win at all costs, wear their heart on their sleeve, all the while doing so in a gentlemanly manner and making sure that they're being proper.

Professional athletes are like you and me, just performing better in their chosen arena. But because they're more proficient than us at the sport, does that mean they need to become emotionally non-human? One cannot expect someone not to react to a terrible call at a crucial moment, a hard foul, a bad line call, a tough penalty, a bad miss, etc. If we are being totally honest, most fans, in similar circumstances, would likely react the same way.

Now, without a doubt, I do believe that professional athletes need to conduct themselves in a certain manner and should be held accountable for their actions, but people can't expect them to be robots. This is no more evident than in tennis.

Tennis players are out on an island by themselves dealing with the opposing player, the conditions, their own play, emotional and physical situations and circumstances, etc. It's just them. No coach. No caddy. No teammates to lean on or to be substituted for if they're having a bad day. No plays being drawn up or timeouts for rest or to stop momentum. The individuals must figure out how to win, how to weather the storm, how to navigate through the match and come out the victor all by themselves

They wear their heart on their sleeve and bleed on the court. And it's done in front of the thousands or millions of people watching.

This is not an easy task at any level, let alone when you're talking about the top players in the world. There is much on the line--from money to pride. But we, the fans and the ruling committees, believe that the athletes must always be on perfect behavior. It's just not realistic.

We say that we want someone to be polite and proper on the court. Pete Sampras was polite, quiet, proper, and oh, possibly the best player of all time (at the time) but apparently that wasn't good enough and he was called boring. People wanted him to show more emotion, be more vocal. Johnny Mac and Marat Safin were the opposite. They were too emotional and vocal, but they're entertaining. Even Lleyton Hewitt, who mostly just yelled “Cmon” and not anything of the negative sort, was said by some to be a little annoying.

And herein lies the problem: We ask athletes to walk such a fine line emotionally while competing. Be polite, but not too polite that you're boring. Be vocal and emotional, but not too emotional that you come off poorly.

I'm not saying one way is right and one is wrong. Athletes must handle themselves in a certain manner. Mac and Safin, in my opinion, were/are overboard and athletes like these should conduct themselves better. And yes, maybe Sampras could have shown a little more emotion at times. But most athletes are not on the extremes and outbursts are not the norm. There is definitely room for emotion to be displayed, and it is at times. If it's too much, the chair umpire will make that call and probably deservedly so. But you know what, whichever side they may fall, that's just who they are. That's just the athlete, the person, being human, being themselves and trying to navigate to win. That's the end goal and what we cheer for, right?

Now, I believe Serena went way beyond appropriate in her reaction but I understand a response to the call. If she just stopped at the initial yelling, no problem. Natural frustration at a ridiculous call (unless it's blatant, especially at that juncture). Most of us would react similarly. But to carry on like she did does deserve some sort of penalty. To end THAT match on a point penalty, I didn't agree with it. Not there. Not after a controversial foot fault call. Not a match like that. But if not, a financial penalty is surely deserved.

I agree that it looks poorly at times and we don’t want children to mimic these bad attitudes. And I understand that when it happens, it’s definitely a talking topic. But I think it's time for many of us to stop acting holier than thou. For people to stop whining, writing a bunch of articles about someone’s character, and making a huge deal when a person whom we ask to do whatever it takes to win, to bleed on the court, to kill themselves, to be great, and to expose themselves to all watching, once in awhile acts a little like the rest of us.

5 comments:

PickleBiz said...

I must admit I agree in theory with your premise that exceptional emotional control does not go hand in hand with exceptional athletic ability. I also must say that the while unfortunate that Serena's one point penalty cost her the match, it was the appropriate thing to do. Financial penalties amounting to .00000001% of someone's net worth are meaningless and absurd, and actions as blatent as Serena's deserve specific and consistantly applied consequences, regardless of the impact on the match. The fact that it was match point is irrelevant when you threaten the judge with bodily harm. Any athlete would be removed immediately from any game situation...last possession in a tied superbowl, world series 7th game bottom of the 9th, whatever, if they threatened to kill the umpire. That's the fans' job...

Brett said...

I agree with you and Serena was WAY over the line. She deserved a point penalty for sure (if not more) and unless it's a monstrous fine, it's meaningless. But as a tennis player and fan (of all sports), it's very hard to have or see a match/game such as that end on a penalty. It's a tough call because it's the correct thing to do, but it also takes away from the match/game. YET...it's no one's fault except the penalized party.

Jack said...

When writing about Serena it's OK to say "I think it's time for many of us to stop acting holier than thou...stop whining, and stop writing a bunch of articles about someones character." On the other hand, when you wrote about Joe Wilson you compared him directly to Joe McCarthy, an evil person who sought to, and succeeeded in destroying the lives of many prominent Americans. Joe Wilson, in the heat of the moment, made a terrible mistake, just like Serena did, and both of them have deservedly paid the price.
WHAT HYPOCRACY!

Robert said...

Your criticism is misdirected as this is NOT a piece that I wrote.

I didn't get your thoughts on my comments on our changing position in Afghanistan. I am surprised.

Jack said...

My sincerest and humblest APOLOGIES, but I find it very hard at times to keep my emotions in check, read properly, and obviously I'm still unhappy about your unwarranted comparison of 2 Joes. Shame on me for losing my composure in the heat of the moment. I suppose I'll just have to flog myself to-nite.
Sorry I missed the Afghanistan piece but I'll check it out now