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The Steele Drum


September 15, 2009 5:09 PM

Let It Go

You saw and heard what Serena Williams did at the U.S. Open last week, and you’re shocked and angry. Fair enough. But it’s not just that.

You think she’s a disgrace to her sport. You think she’s tarnished her reputation and her legacy. You think that she really did “threaten’’ the line judge, came at her with the intention of taking her life in front of a packed stadium and a national television audience. You think that if she’s said and done that “on the street,’’ she’d surely be arrested and thrown in jail.

You demand an apology, then another one, then another one, then berate her for offering it too late, or for the first being too weak. You think her fine should have been a whole lot bigger, like her entire winnings from the Open. You think she should be suspended, too.

Congratulations. You’re now officially guilty of exactly what you’re accusing Serena Williams of doing.

As chronicled by the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon, Williams was scolded at courtside in mid-tirade by none other than her father, Richard, who saw her completely overreacting to a bad call. “Let it go, Serena! Let it go!’’ he shouted.

If only we all could heed his words. She did something terribly wrong. She took too long to acknowledge it. She cleared her head, apologized, paid her fine and absorbed the public embarrassment the act deserved.

Let it go.

But why, in this day and age, should any of us not only weigh in, but take it to the exact same ridiculous extremes that she did? That’s what passes for sports talk now, not to mention pretty much every other kind of talk, every other type of communication, ever since so many more paths have opened up. Everybody has a voice, and everybody’s gonna damn well use it now.

If the target, the situation and the timing is right, any action is open to be punished with a life sentence, which is exactly what an alarmingly large portion of not only the teeming masses, but the supposedly more-responsible professional commentators, is proposing for Serena Williams. They want to hang this around her neck forever, and move it to the top of any list of her career accomplishments. One outrageous outburst that was fairly quickly dealt with by the sport, and the world is striving desperately to have it define her whole life.

Is that an exaggeration? Not when people parse the words she spoke and wonder aloud whether the line judge she berated should have pressed charges.

Some merely want her $10,500 fine multiplied about a hundred fold. Or maybe just take away her prize money. Or remove her from play.

No mention of exactly how any of that would serve the sport or the player. Irrelevant. As long as it satisfies the public blood lust.

It’s ironic that Serena Williams has done a better job in her career avoiding extreme overreaction than the public has. It was a rare blow-up for her, which is one reason it stood out so much – not just among other tennis players, male or female, or other athletes in general, as we’ve learned from the increase in “miking up’’ everybody involved in the action at any event. (Not that even that is a new thing, unless you’ve never heard the classic bleep-filled NFL Films selections from decades back.)

No, we’re the overreactors.

It’s curious, for instance, to see whether the same people condemning Williams for going way overboard against the line judge, who take the “threat’’ aspect of it way too literally, are the same ones who said or wrote that Michael Vick should be given the same treatment he gave his dogs. Since he tortured and killed those dogs, we’re looking at probably thousands of counts of publicly threatening the life of an American citizen. Each defendant, of course, likely would immediately start screaming, “It’s just a figure of speech! You wanna arrest me for that?’’

Sure. Because if you said that “on the street’’ …

It’s almost a sure thing that this same crowd pushed for Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount of Oregon to be suspended for the season after punching the opposing player who had shoved and taunted him after a game. Some also wanted him kicked out of school. And yes, many wanted him in jail, too. To the average rage-fueled fan (or, again, writer or commentator), prison is too quick an answer.

Well, it’s not so quick when it’s a bench-clearing base-brawl, hockey melee, or Cy Young award-winner flinging a bat barrel at a baserunner during the World Series. Or, for that matter, calling a tennis official “the pits of the world,’’ or blurting out a profanity after a long mid-match argument less than 48 hours after Williams’s meltdown. But those cases are different, right?

She has been punished. Let it go.

Meanwhile, on Monday night, the Oakland Raiders played on national TV, coached by one Tom Cable. Early in training camp, Cable reportedly punched out an assistant coach. Police are, in fact, still investigating, and might still file charges.

In the six weeks since, Cable has not received a fraction of the outward public outrage for possibly assaulting a fellow coach and seriously injuring him, that Serena Williams has since Saturday night for cursing and shaking her racket at a line judge.

And on the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast, Cable’s act was never mentioned once.

Looks like in some cases, it is possible to let it go.

(Photos: federal-prison.org; The Guardian)

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