"Off With Her Head!" The Serena Williams Meltdown Aftermath and Its Subtext

T.V. HenryContributor ISeptember 14, 2009

Weasel Words, Intellectual dishonesty, schadenfreude and the William Sisters


It’s time for some adult conversation on the Serena Williams Affair.


Serena went off the rails Friday night. If you say otherwise, you are irrational


Serena throughout her career has been among the classiest and most ladylike players, and is a good human being. If you say otherwise, you are myopic, and you have deep seated. . .problems


Also true is the US Open crowd has always been irrationally partisan. Roddick mocks Djokovic’s injury and it draws laughter. Novak bites back, and it draws boos.


Let’s be frank. Many of you in the tennis community have never liked the Williams sisters, and you never will. Not their power, not their swagger, not their lack of conventional training, not their intelligence and for other reasons. You hated their beads, braids, and bombastic daddy.  


But just say it. And please, desist with the moral platitudes about the “good of the game.” It makes you all look like weasels, just like the Obama Birthers.  This is your Queen Of Hearts moment, and you are relishing it. This is not about the good of the game or sportsmanship. This is mass schadenfreude, and something much more. I’m hearing phrases like “make an example” and “teach her a lesson.”  This is pent up animus, bursting forth like floodwater behind a weakened levee. Like Hurricane Katrina, Serena’s meltdown did not create this fissure, it merely exposed it. This is wild-eyed animosity dressed up in moralistic drivel.


“She was out of line” Agreed

“I think she should be fined” Ditto

“She got her just desserts” Fine by me

“She should be banned or suspended. . .She needs to be taught a lesson . . .It’s bad for the sport” “Any other sport, and she’d be gone”




“She should be suspended,” Mary Carillo said during yesterday’s men’s semifinal telecast. “I can’t believe they are letting her play the doubles after that. What does it say about our sport if all you do is hand out a fine?” Well, I’ll tell you Mary. It makes it mainstream. “Any other sport, she’d be gone.” Methinks Mary hasn’t seen too many baseball games.

They might as well say "HOORAY, Kim and Melanie. The Wicked Witch Is Dead!"

What we are seeing at work here is the logical fallacy of the distinction without a difference. It’s a feature of ad hominem arguments that want to disguise themselves as nuanced. McEnroe was bad, but “never threatened an official."  So it’s worse for Serena to intimidate a linesperson once, than it was for Connors and McEnroe to do it for a career.


Serena smashed her racket after losing a set. Robin Soderling does the same against Federer. For Soderling, it is a sign that he got mad “at himself,” and is “showing some life.” For Serena, she is a “bad sport” and is penalized for racket abuse. Serena is booed. Soderling is cheered. For the record, Djokovic, Wozniacki and others smashed their rackets. No $500 fine (yet), no point penalty.


Clijsters was cheered because she was a “feel good story,” ostensibly because she left the game to have a child and came back. This is revisionist history. Clijsters left the game because the grind was too much for her, and just happened to have a child while gone.


Nevertheless, that was a lifestyle choice, and bully for her. Serena and Venus made lifestyle choices to study interior design and fashion during injury layoffs. But they were “cheating the game” and “showing lack of commitment.” Same situation, but different people. So can you say “Kim quit because she was soft and cheated the game when it needed her in order to do something she could have done when she retired?” You could say it, but you’d be as welcomed as the guy who kicks puppies. (Ironically, these are some of the same hypocrites who support the inane NBA one year in college rule. “After all,” the line goes, ”they need to be an example to African American youth, because sports is not forever.”)


We are told Serena and Venus are not the most pleasant people. Neither was Justine Henin, who made both sisters look as cheery as Barney the Dinosaur by comparison.

Here’s the subtext.

During Melanie Oudin’s match against Caroline Wozniacki, John McEnroe remarked that she was “the only American left in he draw.” It took a Brit, Cliff Drysdale to call him out right then and there on the air, when McEnroe admitted his mistake, which I believe was honest. A Baltimore talk-show host has made similar comments. Though possibly subconscious, such comments make Black People cringe. 10 years of success, and they still aren't considered truly American, nor human.

This is the reality. In many eyes, Serena is the Big Black Masculine Beast who has been bullying the women’s tour, especially since Henin, Davenport, Capriati, Clijsters have left the game and Sharapova has been hurt. Moreover, her and her sister largely couldn’t be stopped on the court, so their detractors could only hope for them to publicly crash and burn.  But they never did. Instead, they continued to smile and laugh, “brushing the dirt off their soldier.”


Until now. Serena cracked, and in epic fashion. There’s likely a reservoir of resentment from the unwarranted and racist criticism she and her sister have endured, and it was unleashed as raw fury. The hapless judge just caught the brunt of it.

”Off With her Head!”
But they won’t say it directly. The Queen Of Hearts, to her credit, was at least always honest.