Two years ago, when she was penalized for a foot fault, star tennis player Serena Williams completely lost her temper in a semi-final match at the U. S. Open. She screamed at the line judge and threatened to stuff a tennis ball down her throat. Williams’ tantrum continued. Eventually, the chair umpire ended the match, which Williams was losing badly to Kim Clijsters.
This year, Williams lost her temper again during the women’s final match at the U. S. Open when she was penalized for yelling “Come on!” just as Samantha Stosur was hitting a ball. Chair umpire Eva Asderaki gave the point to Stosur. Williams went ballistic, insulting Asderaki and telling her not to even look towards Williams. At the end of the game, Williams, who had lost, refused to shake the umpire’s hand.
The CBS/ESPN television sports commentators in 2011 have consistently referred to the episode in 2009 as “controversial.” This euphemism covers up Williams’ refusal to use self-restraint during some tennis matches. In her press conference after the 2011 match, Williams refused to apologize for her behavior. She seems to have a sense of entitlement: as a famous and skillful tennis star, she deserves to win all matches, and any line judge or umpire who stands in her way is an evil racist who deserves any epithets that Williams chooses to hurl.
Most humans have difficulty with anger management, and I include myself in this category. What I find troubling is that some individuals often cannot accept criticism gracefully and, therefore, allow themselves to lose control and attack other people. As a college professor, I have worked with students who have sworn at me when I point out sentence fragments in their writing or explain mistakes that they made on a test. Just as a line judge or umpire’s responsibility is to enforce the rules, my responsibility is to teach important concepts and writing skills. We cannot do our jobs without criticizing people.
I tell my students that it is okay to be angry at me for criticizing their writing. However, I urge students to use their anger to motivate them to improve their performance in my class. That is a constructive way to channel one’s anger. Similarly, if Williams would use her anger to improve her tennis game, that would be constructive. But giving herself permission to insult officials in her sport diminishes Williams’ stature and sets a bad example for the many girls and women who admire her.