Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tempers and Tennis

Something that I am hearing over the last day is that the reaction to Serena's "losing her temper" in the match recently is racism, especially when compared to the reaction to John MacEnroe in the late 70's, early 80's.

I think rather than screaming "racism" we need to look at the fact that the very nature of the media is different now. News and sports are covered 24 hours a day by competitive cable stations, and honestly, there isn't enough news to justify that, so they have to sensationalize. They create drama where there really is very little in order to keep you watching the same way you would stare at a tabloid in the checkout line. If T.O. says something stupid (and really, who is surprised about that?), then it has to be analyzed from all sorts of angles and shock needs to be created. If Brett Favre hasn't decided yet again whether or not he's playing -- its not news if they just report -- "Brett Favre, same deal as last year. let you know what he decides next month." There has to be a "Favre watch" with suspense from every angle as to whether or not he'll sign with this team or that team, an analysis about how the Packers feel about that, etc.

And here's the not so secret: they are hoping things like this happen, and they don't care what athlete does it....because they have to fill hours and hours of discussion for the next week on their syndicated radio shows, and fill up an hour of Sports Center. They don't want you to tune in to check the score of your favorite team and then mosey over to the Food Network.

Are African-American athletes overrepresented in these stories (Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, T.O., Michael Vick, Shaq, Kobe, etc.)? Yes they are. But only because a lot of really exceptional athletes are African-American.

It wasn't like this when MacEnroe was playing. Sports got five minutes in the local half hour newscast, so at BEST, he would get 2 1/2 minutes for a really good tirade. But those who don't remember how vilified he was for his lack of self-control are kidding themselves, and choosing to remember how much fun it was to watch the temper tantrums. But he was held up as a perfect example of bad sportsmanship, whether he was right or not. His outbursts were even worse when you consider that tennis was just one of those games where etiquette and restraint reigned supreme. But people liked watching him because he was rather creative in his expressions...but he was not respected for them. In many ways, like with T.O., Barry Bonds, and Brett Favre -- we were waiting to see when he'd self-destruct and finally completely lose it. People enjoy a good tragedy -- "he was so talented, but no common sense. " MacEnroe didn't earn respect until after he left the game and grew up.

Serena's getting more heat for protesting and walking off the court than she deserves (barring whether or not she actually threatened the official). It was a shock because she is always so professional. Everyone has a bad day. Unfortunately, the camera was on. When you reap so much from good press...its reasonable (though not fair) that you expect a little heat when you have a bad day, too.


Thursday's Child said...

Frankly I don't see why sports is part of the news anyway. It makes about as much sense as entertainment. Sports channels are fine, but I don't care much for watching the news and having to listen to sports. When the athletes behave badly I have even less interest.

Untamed Shrew said...

Ditto. And when you choose to act that way knowing you are on camera, you have forfeited your "rights" to have no one say a negative word about you.

Lori said...

I watched the match which was very intense and can understand her frustration. She was working really hard and was falsely penalized and her protests went unheard and then she faulted for real.
I've been in similar, yet untelevised, situations and can sympathize with her. I thought the fact that she was penalized for the line judges poor call unfair...but such is life.

In her favor, however, is the fact that all publicity is good publicity.

Have a great day and remember to keep your perspective.