Civility, already reeling from a series of body blows, took a couple more punches in the world of public life just recently. I’m not sure how many more rounds it can last.
That’s probably a bad set of metaphors for an entry that’s mostly about tennis. But the sport historically associated with white outfits, gentililty and cathedral-like silence during play was the source last week of yet another display of boorish behavior by someone who should know better.
Serena Williams exited the women’s championship field in the U.S. Open in New York with a disgraceful volley of profanity and threats against a line judge who called her — erroneously as it turned out — for a foot fault in the last game of her semifinal against Belgian Kim Clijsters. Then, to their credit, match officials added a penalty point against Williams for her behavior, ending the match.
It’s all over YouTube — including a post-match press conference in which a reporter inexplicably asks her if the weather contributed to her losing her temper. I loved the reaction.
But not so much the tantrum, of which there’s been an epidemic lately. Someone says or does something you don’t like, or something happens that displeases you, just go off — it’s OK. (See South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson’s reaction to President Obama’s health care claims and Kanye West’s hijacking of the microphone as country singer Taylor Swift was being recognized at the Video Music Awards.
All have issued pro forma apologies — Wilson to the president himself, Williams in a half-hearted statement on her website, probably crafted by a PR person, and West on the debut of Jay Leno’s new NBC show. I’d give West the highest marks for sincerity of the three, but I’m not sure how much of a compliment that is.
But, as someone who’s covered tennis from time to time over the years and remains a fan of the sport, I was very interested in the reaction in the media and the tennis world to the Williams incident. As anyone knows who has followed the men’s game for a while, abuse of the officials is nothing unsual — see John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and the Romanian Ilie Nastase, for three memorable examples. These volatile stars were pretty much allowed to scream, curse, spit, throw rackets, etc., with impunity in the Seventies and Eighties — don’t want to default the biggest drawing cards out of the tournament, after all.
But Williams’ outburst seems to be the most extreme example of this on the women’s side. And I had to shake my head at this column by a New York Daily News writer, who seems to believe this is progress.
Maybe it’s just the difference between the New York state of mind and my traditional Southern upbringing — where for better or worse, even phony politeness is considered more desirable than genuine rudeness.
I can’t help it. I just think people ought to behave better. And I’ll kick the living crap out of you if you dare to disagree.