Sunday, December 13, 2009

Record Fine for Serena Williams' Outburst

On November 30, almost 3 months after her well-documented "outburst" in the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Open, the Grand Slam Committee announced a record fine for Serena Williams. Most reports indicated that Serena was fined $82,000, although the conditions of the fine were more complex. According to Bill Babcock, the Grand Slam administrator who was charged with reviewing the case and recommending the terms of the fine, Serena faces a "probationary period" of two years in all major grand slam events. If she has another "major offense" (as her outburst was classified), the fine would double to $175,000. and she would be banned from playing in the subsequent U.S. Open. On the Baseline's Aaress Lawless reported the actual amount of the fine as $175,000, noting that if Serena behaves properly during the next two years, that amount will be reduced to $82,500. While most reports referred to $82,000 as the amount of the fine, Serena pointed out that since she was previously assessed $10,000 (the maximum on-site amount), that actually brings the total to $92,000.

The highest fine ever levied before was in 1995, when Jeff Tarango walked off the court during a match at Wimbledon. After accusing Chair Umpire Bruno Rebeuh of being the "most corrupt" official in tennis, Tarango's wife later slapped Rebeuh. Tarango was fined $48,000 and not allowed to play Wimbledon the following year.
Just as the outburst evoked diverse responses from Serena's fans and haters, the announcement of the fine elicited widespread response as well. The Washington Post writer Liz Clarke cited the new CEO of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), Stacey Allaster, who hailed Williams as "a great champion and role model to millions" (para. 10). Noting that Serena had already apologized for her behavior, Allaster said that she had no doubt that Serena had "learned from this incident," adding that she doubted we would ever see her "act in this manner again" (para. 11). A less forgiving view was offered by commentator Mary Carillo who questioned why it had taken almost 3 months to return a verdict. According to Carillo, "Serena Williams physically threatened and verbally assaulted an official during one of the most watched tennis matches of 2009, and after three months of thoughtful, considered cogitation the Grand Slam Committee came up with 'Grand Slam Probation' and a 'suspended ban'? ...And half of what was deemed to be her fine? Boy, that ought to show everyone" (para. 13).
While many assessments considered the fairness of the fine in relationship to Serena's outburst, some writers weighed in on the process by which the decision was made. J.A. Allen suggested that since the governing body of tennis could not really "separate its disciplinary practices from its financial needs," the result was that "the action taken by the ITF smacks of favoritism and impotence" (para. 34). Meanwhile, on, Bonnie Ford hinted that the decision had already been telegraphed by the President of the ITF, Ricci Bitti, when he suggested that suspending Serena Williams would not make much sense since it would actually "penalize the people handing out the punishment" (para. 3).
Regardless of how the action has been evaluated, Serena has responded to the fine by speaking out and launching her own effort to match the amount for charitable causes. Shortly after learning of the record fine, Serena was said to launch "an extraordinary attack on officials and former players in a bitter aftermath to her record fine" (para. 1). Suggesting that previous male players like Jeff Tarango and John McEnroe got off easy for their violations of tennis' code of conduct , Serena suggested that she believed her breach of etiquette was different because she was a female, saying that it's "Cool for 'MEN' I guess. Is it because they are all HEs and not a SHE like me? Being American, I guess, the first amendment, freedom of speech, does not apply to a SHE in this case? In any event, the Grand Slam committee, ITF and its staff did not hesitate to call, send a note, text, nor write letters after this incident. Ironic, is it not? ... I don't mind being fined. If I did wrong I accept the repercussions. All I ask for is to be treated equal," said Williams. (para. 7).
So, I am interested to know if you think the record fine was fair, and/or do you think there is a double-standard?

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