Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sexism, Serena and Kim

Ann Killion, ironically writing for a sexist publication, makes several points about gender and the U.S. Open with which I strongly agree. There is no doubt in my mind that those in power in sport (and everywhere else)--both women and men--think it is just fine for men to lose their tempers, and "wrong" for women to do so. (I even saw a comment on a blog suggesting that Williams be gender-tested because her rage was so great.) Serena Williams, while often publicly embracing patriarchal values off the court, nevertheless--as an athlete--rubs against the grain of those values.

I also agree with Killion that way too much has been made of Clijsters' motherhood. It was indeed a great feat for Clijsters to have to begin her training from scratch after giving birth so that she could play again, and I applaud her hard work and determination. But the "balance" question is driving me nuts, as it always does. Clijsters "balances" motherhood and a profession the way millions of women--and men--do, every day.

However, I do not agree with Killion that the the line call was "ticky-tacky." What is the point of having rules if officials arbitrarily decide they should not be enforced at certain points of a match or a tournament? And--having seen the Tennis Channel footage--I also disagree with the "questionable" part.

Finally, I disagree that Williams' act was merely an "outburst." It was at first, but then it became something else when physicality was added to it. I do agree with Killion, however, that the chair umpire could have found something to do besides just sit there. And I do join others in thinking that a few "outbursts" from previous decades also crossed the line, but were tolerated.

So although I cannot go along with everything Killion has to say, I'm really glad that someone has devoted an entire column to the sexism aspect of what happened on Saturday.

As for those who make sexist and racist attacks on Serena and on the lineswoman: They appear to be less interested in discovering and analyzing what happened than they are in exploiting the event as an opportunity to express their disdain for those who are neither male nor Caucasian.


Todd Spiker said...

I think we're on opposite sides of the "ticky-tack" issue, though I admit my side doesn't really have any true legs to stand on when it comes to backing up the opinion.

I don't know whether or not you follow any other sports, but I think the line of thinking is a byproduct of that. There's nothing more aggravating when, say, in football, a marginal interference call being enforced on what would be the final play of the game and the resulting penalty giving the win to the other team. While the call would be technically in line with the rules of the game, most people would prefer the officials stay out of the story and let the players decide the outcome, unless the infraction is just far too blatant -- over the line, if you will, haha -- to overlook. See, like I said, it doesn't really back up the opinion, but I think that's where the idea comes from.

Actually, I think foot faults could be treated as let serves, anyway, and possibly only be elevated to actual faults if it becomes an habitual infraction. Say, after two or three times in a match or set. Since because unless the server's foot truly tramples all over the line, and maybe even steps over it into the court, they're not getting any true advantage by doing it anyway. So, really, the penalty of a fault seems to be a bit harsh... especially when you consider that an actual serve that doesn't even cleanly make it over the net isn't always ruled a fault.

Diane said...

I do watch some other sports, but not much football. And I do understand that--if an infraction is iffy--one might overlook the "maybe" infraction (on the other hand, an official should never make a call about which s/he is that uncertain). However, I'm hearing from people (not you, Todd) that a foot fault should not be called at that stage of the match under any circumstance, and I can't agree with that.

There is certainly an argument to be made that foot faults are not so much "faults" as regular service faults, and perhaps should be called as lets, but--as things stand now--they count the same.

So I do understand what you're saying, but for me, the rules are what the rules are. Tennis rules have changed several times over the years, and this one may change, too.

Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, I don't disagree with anything that you said. I mean, the players (should) know the rules, so it's their own fault if they don't adhere to them. Plus, the foot fault itself didn't end the match, Williams' reaction to it did. Even with it, she'd still have had the ability to serve back-to-back aces to get herself out of the hole and back into the game if she hadn't robbed herself of the chance.

I really do think the foot-fault as a let idea wouldn't be a bad one at all. FF's don't come about all that often, so it's not as if it would change the flow of games. Of course, I've always thought that let serves should be played rather than served over... but that rule will NEVER be changed, because no one wants to face the prospect of a slam being determined by a lucky bounce that causes the ball to dribble over the net, with the would-be losing player not having any chance to return it.

I don't think the foot-fault rule will ever be changed, either. Now, certainly not anytime soon just because it would appear as if the tour was "siding" with Williams.

Diane said...

A couple of former players (I think McEnroe and Navratilova, but I'm not sure) have argued that the let be abolished. Of course, it could not be totally abolished because lets are about more than net balls--paper flies onto the court, hats fall off, etc.

But you have a point that there would be outrage if someone won a championship with a serve that dribbles over the net.

frankensue said...

Two things. To pro players, even college players and really good recreational players, serving is like breathing. It's just an easy natural movement. If players like them, after years of playing and coaching, haven't learned to keep their foot off the baseline when serving, well, they deserve to have a foot fault called.
Second, there are no minor calls. You watch replays and a ball is sometimes in or out by a hair. No one ever suggests ignoring the rules because that shot was so close or it was such a beautiful shot or it's an important point. To me, Serena touching the line is the same thing. It was a foot fault, even if only by a hair, and needed to be called.

Diane said...

Also, the timing shouldn't matter, either. Let's say, for argument's sake, that Serena was serving at 3-4, 30-40 in the first set, and she committed a foot fault, and that Kim then stayed up a break throughout and won the set. Then, if Serena lost the second set, would there have been an outrage over the foot fault call? Probably not, but the foot fault would have been a pivotal (pun not intended) moment for Serena.

But of course, a match isn't won or lost on a fault.

And I still think that several journalists who have written about this matter have still not seen the Tennis Channel footage.

I think that reasonable people can argue successfully about the importance of foot faults. But as long as foot faults exist, players have to do their best to not commit them.