Serena Symposium

We had a neighborhood block party on Saturday, and we had to work on Sunday, so we missed the women’s final at the U.S. Open and the immediate reaction thereafter. In doing so, it turned out we missed a lot, including a young player’s first major win, and a veteran player’s failed bid for an historic twenty-fourth major win. There was, as such circumstances almost inevitability present, some drama.

After dropping the first set to Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams looked to be back in the mix, down just 4-3 in the second. But she’d already been mixing it up with the match umpire, who eventually charged her with a game penalty, effectively placing the set and the match out of reach for Williams.

For those who did not watch the match, we are reliant on our trusted commentators for assistance in understanding a difficult situation. As a public service, I present two voices. The first belongs to my favorite new tennis writer, Louisa Thomas, who isn’t really new at the game, at least by internet standards. In Thomas’ estimation, the umpire, Carlos Ramos, failed to grasp the moment and severely overreacted, at least in part due to Williams’ identity– not as an all-time champion, but as a woman, and one who is not Caucasian. Public scorn shades Osaka’s ensuing championship moment. The fault, Thomas contextualizes, of Ramos, but mitigated, she explains, by the grace of Williams.

The second voice belongs to one of my favorite sports commentators, Mary Carillo, who, as ever and always, speaks with a clarity that flows from experiential authority:

In the end, reactions from commentators, however experienced or perceptive, are just that: reactions. For Osaka, this was her moment, and, whatever happens from here, no one– Ramos, Williams, the fans in Queens, or anyone else– can take it away from her. For Williams, it’s about what happens next. She’ll try to match Margaret Court’s major-championship record in Melbourne this January.

Advertisements

A note on rants

The substantial development of online social networks as a solidifying infrastructure for the movement of information online has reinforced on the web the tenets of the attention economy and turned the internet, as concerns the sharing of content, into the interactive, digital version of a supermarket checkout aisle magazine display or afternoons on cable news networks. Whether you’re hawking cat videos or the latest from Miley Cyrus, the internet is in a serious tabloid phase, and the clickbait semantics of TMZ, Gawker, and Buzzfeed pervades. In the unending drive to control attention, the currency of our present time, everything must be labeled “awesome,” “EPIC,” “incredible,” “the best X you’ll see today,” “spectacular,” “fabulous,” and so forth, even if it’s barely out of the ordinary. It’s increasingly difficult to describe anything in measured terms, and we’re losing perspective on the degree to which anything truly is extraordinary.

The latest example of this phenomenon comes in the treatment of comments in a postgame press conference by Southern Illinois University head men’s basketball coach Barry Hinson, who expressed open frustration with his young team after a loss. It wasn’t the handful of mumbled sports cliches we’ve come to expect in such settings, but neither was it, upon my eventual listen, an extreme outburst deserving of the extreme attention it received. “Epic Rant!”, numerous outlets exclaimed. “Amazing tirade.” “Must-see video.” “Epic postgame rant for the ages,” they said.

Please. I’ve heard Denny Green. I’ve heard Jim Mora. I’ve heard Mike Gundy. I’ve heard Mary Carillo. Barry Hinson doesn’t hold a candle to those artists.

If you wanted a true rant this week, you just needed to wait until Wednesday afternoon. Colin Cowherd came on the Paul Finebaum Show and said that he thought that Gus Malzahn has Auburn situated to give Nick Saban and Alabama stiff competition in the coming years, and Cowherd predicted that the Tigers would beat Alabama again next year on their way to back-to-back national titles. Some of Finebaum’s Alabama listeners did not appreciate Cowherd’s opinions, and they called in to say so. As I heard the call of one such fan, Phyllis, unfold while listening to the Cowherd segment this morning, I had the slow-dawning realization that I was experiencing true radio magic. Listen for yourself:

(The full segment is available here.)