Alright, there was a huge U.S. Open controversy this weekend and let’s get right to it, in the mixed doubles final Bethanie Mattek-Sands…
Wait, hang on, that’s not the one you mean?
I kid, of course. The younger sister of Venus Williams was once again the center of an enormous brouhaha Saturday night, in a women’s final that was being talked about all over the media world Sunday.
Look, I’m always thrilled when MSNBC and CNN and NPR talk about tennis in any way, because it gives exposure to my favorite sport. But it seems like a lot of times tennis is talked about because of a reason like this.
OK, so there’s a lot to unpack here, I have lots of thoughts, I’m going to try to organize them but after talking and synthesizing all of the “hot takes” over the past 24 hours, I hope my thoughts are coherent…
1. Absolutely the first point I must make: Naomi Osaka 100 percent earned and deserved that championship. The poise, skill and strength she showed throughout the two weeks was outstanding, and this 20-year-old is absolutely a future star. So happy she broke through at the Open, and I’m so bothered that her triumph is marred by what happened. That she had to hear boos rained down on her during her U.S. Open trophy ceremony is appalling.
2. Serena Williams was 90 percent to blame for what happened (I’ll parcel out the other 10 percent in a minute). That a 36-year-old woman who’s been playing pro tennis for nearly 20 years would act that way on a court, still, is deplorable. Especially a woman who has a long history of unsportsmanlike behavior at the U.S. Open.
Forget about whether she even knew her coach Patrick Mouratoglou was coaching her when the violation was given; her gross misunderstanding of the rules (the umpire, Carlos Ramos, could’ve diffused things a little by explaining he wasn’t accusing Serena of cheating, that her coach was cheating, and she the player is responsible for anything her coach does) and how she behaved when given a point penalty was terrible, and sadly so many media apologists (Sally Jenkins’ column was particularly repulsive to me) seem to focus completely on Ramos, and ignore that it was Serena’s behavior that led to the problem in the first place.
3. The other 10 percent of blame for the situation goes to Mouratoglou, who absolutely later admitted he was coaching and then gave the excuse of “everyone does it” as if that should absolve him, and Ramos gets some blame, too. He could’ve diffused the situation by explaining why Serena got the first violation, and he could’ve given her a “listen, you’re getting very close to a game penalty” warning when she started ranting at him, calling him a liar and a thief. Other umpires have done that with other players. But it’s by no means required.
4. Ramos did his job; Serena or her coach committed three violations, and in tennis that means: warning, point penalty, game penalty. The rules were enforced exactly as written.
5. The sexism card and the racism card has been pulled out this weekend, of course. The racism charge is ridiculous, this had nothing to do with race. The sexism charge has more merit; there certainly have been men’s players like Jimmy Connors and others who have behaved abominably and not been given penalties as severe as Serena’s. (Connors famously called an umpire “an abortion). Roger Federer cursed at an umpire once and wasn’t penalized.
Then again, John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and many, many other men have been fined, suspended and defaulted from matches.
Are men and women treated differently on the tennis court? Yes, sometimes. Does that excuse what Serena did? Not in my book. Not at all.
6. Osaka was pulverizing the ball and was probably going to win that match, regardless of the game penalty enforced at 4-3 in the second set. Anyone who saw a huge Serena comeback coming, you’ve got better vision than me.
7. Serena’s entire reaction/explosion from her belief Ramos thought she was cheating. Her pride and moral compass were triggered, and she couldn’t live with the idea someone thought she was cheating. Most players who get warnings let it go, and return to focus on the match. Clearly, she couldn’t.
8. Lastly, history matters. Reputation matters. If this were the first-ever incident of Serena behaving this way, maybe she gets more leeway and sympathy from others. But this is an athlete who had made great, great strides the past few years with her behavior on and off the court. She was no longer so discourteous when she lost, nor when she won. She was comporting herself with more maturity on and off the court.
But this was disgraceful and deplorable behavior Saturday night. I do give Serena credit during the trophy ceremony for trying to get the crowd to stop booing, and to give Osaka her due.
But man, was that too little too late. Naomi Osaka was a worthy champion. On Saturday night, Serena Williams was far from it.
**OK, let me move on to something that filled me with great joy. Saturday night was the annual Friends of Jaclyn gala, an event I look forward to every year because I get to see so many people involved in this fantastic charity. As I’ve written many times in this space before, my wife and I are heavily involved with this wonderful organization that pairs children with pediatric brain tumors with high school and college sports teams across the country, allowing these children to be showered with love and companionship at a very difficult part of their lives.
We all go to a lot of annual events but this one is special to me because it’s so gratifying to see the same people every year, specifically the kids who are fighting their disease bravely and seeing them annually lets me know that they’re still here, fighting, doing all they can. We’ve lost more than 150 kids to this horrible disease since FOJ’s founding in 2005, so seeing the smiling, shining faces of kids like Sterling Bachman and Grace Leva every year reminds me that some are winning this fight.
The Murphy family, and the two women who run FOJ, Erin Perkins and Alicia Greenstone, are so compassionate and have such huge hearts, and they do a phenomenal job raising awareness of FOJ and pediatric brain tumors.
I haven’t posted the original HBO Real Sports story about Friends of Jaclyn in a while, so I felt like today would be a good day to do it. Here’s FOJ’s website if you’re interested in getting involved.
**Finally today, football is back! Every year I get less excited about watching NFL football, for a variety of reasons, but week 1 always gets me excited. Everyone’s undefeated! New players are on new teams and anything’s possible! The Jets might not stink! The Browns might not stink! Maybe the Patriots WILL finally stink!
Anyway, my green and white boys don’t play their first game until tonight so I had a stress-free football Sunday, but lots of other interesting stuff happened, namely…
— Aaron Rodgers went down in the first half of the first game for the Packers Sunday night against the Bears, and millions of Packers fans (and fantasy owners) had to be thinking, “He’s not hurt AGAIN, right?) Well, he was, but only for a little while, and he led a stirring comeback and the Bears, after an amazing first half by Khalil Mack (hey Raiders, good job trading him, that looks great so far!), blew a huge lead and lost.
It’s good for the NFL to have Aaron Rodgers healthy
— The Washington Redskins were supposed to be terrible. They’ve got a new QB and seemingly not much talent around him. But they came out and whupped the Arizona Cardinals. One of the reasons I love Week 1: Now Skins fans are all excited and thinking their team is great. But what if the Cardinals just stink?
— The Browns. Oh, the Browns. After going 0-16 last year, they fell behind the Steelers 21-7 Sunday. Then they rallied to tie the score, forced the last of six Pittsburgh turnovers at the end of overtime, then had a game-winning field goal blocked. And so they ended the game in a tie.
But they did give us absolutely the best stat graphic of the year, nothing will top this, ever.
I mean… how sad is that? They tied their opener and it’s their best start in 14 years!!! Oh, the Browns. I love them so.
— There can’t be a more depressed fan base this morning than the Buffalo Bills (and to my Bills fan friends, of who I have several: I’m sorry). They lost 47-3 on opening day. Forty-seven to three!!!! That’s beyond bad. That’s pathetic.
Oh, the Bills. Gonna be a long winter in Buffalo.
Let’s go Jets. Let’s go Darnold. And Happy New Year to my fellow Members of the Tribe.