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

Book Review: Paul Finebaum’s Conference has Beaten Your Conference (Probably)

IMG-20140814-00138For someone who spends twenty hours a week on national airwaves as the host of an eponymous radio show, now simulcast on cable television, and makes regular television appearances on a major network, Paul Finebaum sure does manage to keep himself hidden.

I am not a longtime listener of Finebaum’s show by any means. I first remember hearing about him when I moved back to SEC country during the 2012 football season and he was still broadcasting on Birmingham’s WJOX. Due largely to my own preconceived misconceptions, I was surprised when I first heard the show following its move to ESPN Radio in 2013 to find that it was an extremely caller-driven show, to the point where Finebaum rarely asserted his own voice for purposes other than briefly sparring with or otherwise egging on his admittedly bombastic callers. At that time, the majority of those callers remained Alabama-based, and the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry served as nearly every item on the host’s go-to menu.

While a lot of this struck me as fairly standard cheap talk radio tactics, I remained intrigued by this person, who had risen to such prominence and reported influence, despite, I thought, hardly taking active steps to exert much in the way of influence. I therefore read the then-recent and still-surprising long feature on Finebaum in The New Yorker with great interest and anticipation. I found the piece to be more an introduction for Manhattanites to the other SEC and its attendant culture than a deep dive on Finebaum himself. Finebaum as access point, rather than Finebaum as subject. (A long Deadspin feature from the same year had a similar effect.) It’s a worthwhile read if you like college football. Still, I did not feel like I knew or understood this man, though, or why he was so widely regarded.

Fast forward (the lazy blogger wrote) to August 14, 2014. The SEC Network, an ESPN entity, launches (on Tim Tebow’s birthday, naturally), and Finebaum’s book, My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football, arrived in my mailbox.

Continue reading