Down under Selective Outrage, a spirited discussion is unfolding about Serena and Venus Williams' choice to continue to boycott since 2001 the 6th Slam at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.
I had never seen the 2001 final between Serena and Kim Clijsters, never bothered to see the match after hearing so much about it, but decided to watch it earlier this week when the entire brouhaha resurfaced as it does every year at this time. I even posted a few segments of the match, which can be seen in its entirety on YouTube. Took me awhile to get through it because the situation was chilling. That Serena was able to deal with all of it with such grace and dignity, able to rally from the brink of defeat to win the match is a moment in sports history this writer won't soon forget.
Here's my final word on the situation and then this train is leaving the station.
During the spriited discussion, our contributor MMT said...
But I don't know that such a response [an announcement from the tournament officials] would have made a difference...
It's moot, of course, but I firmly believe it would have made all the difference in the world.
It makes a huge difference when the chair umpire tells the crowd to stop applauding after a first serve. And all the umpire has to do to calm the crowd down is say "Please" a few times in any language.
Tennis crowds are like sheep. If you let them get out of hand, they'll go all the way there. If you remind them of the traditional fan etiquette, they fall in line.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but if a tournament official opened the event, before the players even came onto the court for warm up, with an explanatory and firm statement similar to the one I imagined in the comment section linked above, the entire situation could likely have been avoided.
In any case, no one could have said the tournament did nothing.
As it was, no tournament or match official whatsoever, including the chair umpire, did anything to even attempt to control the atmosphere.
But, alas, a security officer was dispatched to sit by Richard Williams through almost the entire match. I would guess the officer was there to stop someone from trying to harm Mr. Williams, since, clearly, the crowd was becoming more vociferous as the match wore on and Mr. Williams, clearly, was no threat to anyone as he sat and watched his daughter try to win a tennis match.
But why would Mr. Williams need protection? And from whom?
The only logical answer is because tournament officials wanted to protect his safety. I say this is the only logical answer because it would be illogical to think Mr. Williams had threatened anyone else but still be allowed to sit inside the stadium, free as a bird, and watch his daughter try to win a tennis match.
Now, why would he be potentially unsafe? Perhaps the tournament officials knew of some threatening language (including a racial epithet, perhaps?) hurled his way as the negative atmosphere escalated.
Can't rule it out, can you?
I don't need this to be about racism. I don't. In fact, I hope it wasn't. But only a fool or a blind optimist would rule it out.
If there was, indeed, a racial element in the utterances of the vociferous fans, and if the family did not share this with anyone for days, it could mean Richard and Venus were trying not to make a big public stink about it.
Isn't it therefore entirely possible that they finally broke their silence as a way to push back against the unfounded criticisms and accusations hurled at them?
Don't victims of rape and incest or other abuse often remain silent for strings of time before they tell their story? And don't they often, in the case of, say, incest or domestic violence, remain silent in order to protect a loved one?
If Serena didn't know about any racial remarks until she was asked in an interview, it's entirely possible her father and sister didn't tell her about them, not that they weren't uttered. Maybe they wanted to protect her, baby of the family that she is. She was only 19.
Can't rule it out.
All I'm saying is there's too much we don't know about what happened and too many people are looking to poke holes in the Williamses' accounts like lawyers cross-examining witnesses who they believe lack credibility.
Why would the Williamses lie about what happened? What would be the point? They weren't suing the tournament for damages. They weren't asking Al Sharpton to organize a protest against the tournament. So what did they get for lying? How did they benefit?
What we know is this: Venus was really injured and no one told that to the disgruntled fans between the semifinal and final. A family was booed by a vociferous crowd when they entered the stadium. A tennis player, who had done nothing wrong or untoward to anyone in the stadium, was booed by a vociferous crowd during and even after she won the match. A tennis player was booed by a vociferous crowd during the trophy ceremony. The tournament never took action to attempt to stop it or apologize in the immediate aftermath. The tournament seemed perfectly content to allow far too many people to believe that Venus wasn't really injured, the semifinal match was fixed, and the Williamses were perpetrating a fraud on the fans and the sport.
That's what we know.
Lest we forget, this was no walk in the park for Clijsters who once said it was the most difficult on-court moment of her career.
I won't go so far as to say that the tournament's silence actually fanned the flames of the controversy, but the silence was wrong.
What we know and whatever else might have happened behind the scenes in Indian Wells, California, 8 years ago this month, left such a mark on the Williamses that they have chosen never to return.
That's their prerogative, that's their right, and critics of their choice basically need to step the fuck off.