Last night in one of the ugliest moments in recorded tennis history, Serena Williams lost in the semifinals of the US Open to Kim Clijsters because of a foot fault. The ugliness was not the foot fault itself, or the call. It emanated solely from Williams. And it was so bad, so unforgivable, that many of us will never root for her again. Indeed, the outburst could permanently mar her historic career. This is especially true for those of us who welcome athletes into our home to show our children examples of what hard work and skill can do for anyone with the drive and desire to reach their goals. Serena Williams will never again be such a role model for any parent who values integrity and personal decorum.
It may be easy for many of you to ignore or even defend Serena Williams' outburst against the diminutive Japanese line judge last night. You can claim that the line faults were unjustified, that her situation was such that she was entitled to walk toward the line judge, shaking her racket near enough to be extremely threatening, yelling the most unrepeatable and unreportable word in the English language more than once in a vulgar, horrible evocation of tennis past.
If you are McEnroe or support his personality and past, you can feel justified in your criticism of the foot fault and even treat the point awarded to Clijsters as unjustified. And you can ignore the tirade. After all, McEnroe is among the worst tennis has ever had to offer. And his support for Serena Williams is yet another disgusting reminder of how distasteful he can be and was on the world stage. For him to take the world stage and say that no foot fault can be called at any point in a match is beyond good taste. In this situation only one person is at fault. Serena Williams.
For those in the Bjorg-Sampras-Federer mold, this is not acceptable conduct and deserves the maximum punishment. When decorum and leadership are among the traits we seek to have our youth emulate, the Serena Williams outburst is unforgivable.
She was about to lose to a woman whose motherhood could make her among the very few to win a grand slam event as a mother. In a sense, this makes matters far worse. Her tirade occurred when she was about to lose. Her tirade resulted in loss of match point, a point never played because the match ended up at an end due to the point for unsportsmanlike conduct. And it denied Clijsters a richly deserved win over an opponent against whom she rarely has won, moving her into a final against Caroline Wozniacki, the woman who may become or even already be the best in woman's tennis.
Afterward, Williams refused to apologize for her actions.
In a counterpoint to life, we have the following to remember as we move toward the rain-drenched men's and women's finals. Americans stand on their perch as among the most boorish, unsportsmanlike people in the world in part because they revere boorish, unsportsmanlike sportsmen and sportswomen. They refuse to require these people to live by correct standards, instead treating them as inspirations and paying them money to show their boorish sides to the world. Americans hire the John McEnroes and Pam Shrivers of the world because they somehow feel these are our best representatives, people to emulate and aspire toward. Americans remain one of the worst examples of "ugly" in a world begging for more morality and better standards. The "Ugly American" is no myth. It was on display for anyone who cared to watch last night.
So has Williams permanently marred her career because of her outburst? For all of us, the answer should be at least until and unless she apologizes directly to the line judge and to tennis fans everywhere.
The best anyone who opposes the "ugly American" can do with Williams is to grant her no quarter. Refuse to forgive her at least until she apologizes and admits she was wrong to have done what she did. And require that she contact the diminutive Japanese line judge involved and offer her a direct apology.
For some of us, her actions will remain unforgivable acts of a tennis star whose best days are behind her. For us, her actions last night will permanently mar her past and mark her future in the sport. Whenever we see her from now on, the hate and intolerance etched on her face, the "how dare you" superiority, and the palpable physical threats as she towered over the line judge, will be the only image we will see. She will join the rogues gallery including McEnroe, Shriver, and Nastase.