the Serena Williams experiment

So I ran a small, experiment this past weekend. Bear with me. It was a sincere, semi-intentional ploy, with no desire to manipulate, but to learn.

And learn I did.

Other than Intramuralist notifications, rarely do I post anything on my social media accounts other than an encouragement, expression of gratitude, or an especially clever comment by one of my kids. But as I was watching the U.S. Open women’s tennis final unfold, I decided to react.

Most are now aware of what happened Saturday night…

Tennis great Serena Williams had lost the first set to Naomi Osaka. Osaka was playing exceptional tennis. Early in the second set, Serena was beginning to rally, with the pro-Serena, New York crowd clearly rooting her on. Umpire Carlos Ramos then noticed a hand gesture from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, considered to be “coaching.” Under Grand Slam event rules, coaching is defined as “communication, advice or instruction of any kind by any means to a player.” It is not allowed. Hence, Williams was given a warning by the umpire. One of the controversies — as shared unanimously by the expert announcers — is that coaching violations are inconsistently applied.

Then after moving ahead in the second set, but dropping her serve to make it 3-2, Williams smashed her racket on the court in heated frustration. That is an automatic rules violation. Since it was Serena’s second code violation, she was penalized a point.

Not long thereafter, while sitting on the sidelines prior to the players changing ends, Williams continued to argue with the umpire. She passionately defended herself, saying she does not cheat, and that she was owed an apology. She was angry and loud. She accused Ramos of being a “thief,” having “stolen” the previously awarded point. Considered as verbal abuse, Ramos then assessed a third violation, resulting in an entire game penalty, putting Osaka up 5-3.

The arguing continued, with tournament officials even entering the court, with whom Williams would continue to plead her case. After an extended delay, play resumed with both players visibly shaken. Osaka would proceed to win, 6-2 6-4, but the umpire exited to a raucous chorus of boos, shared by fans obviously agitated with how Williams was treated. The boos continued during the award ceremony, silenced only when Serena asked the crowd to stop, wanting to ensure Osaka received her just acknowledgement and award.

Typically, when reacting to a controversial current event, I like to take some time and wrestle with all sorts of varied angles. I like to read and study and pray for discernment, seeking foremost to understand. I like to think things through… think who it affects… and think: “what am I missing?”

But in my small experiment, I did nothing of the sort. Instead… 

I reacted. I intentionally omitted context. I only posted the following: “I’ve never seen a US Open like this. Way to still handle it with class, Serena.”

The reality is that I never have seen an Open like Saturday night. The crowd’s reaction seemed unprecedented.

And handling it with “class”? That was in reference to Serena silencing the crowd in order to honor Osaka. I was — and still am — amazed at how in the moment, Serena felt called to console her opponent.

But in order to allow my only comment to focus on how Serena honored Osaka and handled the crowd, I had to ignore how Serena berated the umpire. Our culture isn’t very good at respecting authority, and if that was my kid out there, I would be disappointed and dismayed.

What is equally true is if I only focused on how Serena berated the umpire, I would have had to ignore the fact that on the men’s circuit, many are known to be significantly more emotional and vulgar — and not necessarily receive a code violation.

In other words, in order to make my point — in order to believe that only one perspective was correct — I had to ignore another angle.

And so I learned… when we react, when we omit context… when we fail to take the time to sort through varied angles, read, study, and pray for that discernment — we are most tempted to ignore something significant… something that might broaden our perspective… and something that might give us more grace for one who thinks differently. 

What are we missing, friends?

And how often should we be asking that question?

Respectfully…

AR

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *