Crazy, Uncontrolled, Bad: How Serena Williams was Punished

Posted by: NSRLP Category: Blog Comments: 19 Post Date: September 10, 2018

The world was riveted by the conflict that descended on the US Women’s Tennis Final on Saturday night.

Subsequent days have produced an outpouring of argument over the behaviour of Serena Williams, who was competing for the coveted title against Naomi Osaka. Williams lost after a series of code violations were called against her by the chair umpire, violations that are rarely called (almost never against male players), and which culminated in a forfeited game at a crucial time in the second, deciding set.

For those not familiar with tennis scoring: forfeiting an entire game at this point in a championship final is a really, really big deal, a little like getting a goal added to one side’s score in the last 5 minutes of an otherwise tied Stanley Cup final.

And for those not familiar with the conventions of tennis umpiring: I have been watching tennis since I was 10 years old and I have never, ever seen a player at any level or in any match be given a game forfeit. This period covers the tantrums of often extremely badly behaved players such John McEnroe and Ile Nastase.

Serena behaved badly, no doubt about it. But her anger was righteous and for good reason.

Which brings me to SRLs…

At the risk of being accused of seeing everything as a nail when you have a hammer, the dynamics of the Serena story – which I watched live along with millions of others – almost immediately made me think of the conundrum faced by SRLs.

There is nothing more infuriating than being treated unfairly.

In Serena’s case, as well as for many SRLs, unfair treatment is not a one-off experience. It usually accumulates in a series of incidents over time. Each one adds to a generalized sense of grievance. And each one makes it harder to ignore and rise above the next one.

Most of us will eventually push back, some sooner than others, and some louder than others (and in Serena’s case, some more publicly than others).

When we do argue back, get angry, or call out the person we feel is being unfair, we make ourselves vulnerable. Vulnerable to others who look on and judge us as crazy, uncontrolled, and “bad”.

And, if you are Serena Williams, judged in the form of a racist and sexist cartoon that goes viral around the world.

When we sense that our reaction to the original unfairness is being disapproved of and judged negatively, it’s hard not to feel an even greater sense of frustration and unfairness. Which may in turn translate into our own worse behaviour, language, and resistance.

I am not advocating for the type of public meltdown that we saw on court from Serena Williams on Saturday night, any more than I would advocate for an SRL behaving rudely or inappropriately in court.

What I am trying to point out is that Serena shows us how easily and quickly we buy into a demonized evaluation of someone and their behaviour. She had good reason to point out that the code violations called against her in the Final were unfair and probably motivated by the sexism and perhaps racism of the chair umpire, who did not take kindly to being spoken to sharply by an African-American woman. SRLs often have good reason to push back against being spoken to with condescension and even hostility by opposing lawyers and judges, and being penalized in ways that seem out of the ordinary and even discriminatory. (For some examples, see our recent SRL Case Law Database reports).

Treating people badly often means that they behave badly.

But that should not cause us to lose sight of the originating problem. Serena was treated unfairly on Saturday night. SRLs are treated unfairly every day in our courts.

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Comments (19)

  • Ron

    I’ll apologize now. I’m sorry. I agree and disagree. I’ve been a tennis player and watching tennis for a very long time too. Serena like, many people, in the moment, the heat of battle, forgets decorum – but she has behaved like this before. However, (I agree) to lose the entire match by default is ‘wrong’-just like SRL’s entirely wrong. Your corrolation and assertion between race and gender as it pertains to SRL’s is correct. But, in my opinion, race and gender have little to do with the outcome and ruling of the judge. In a court room, YES. In the arena of sport NO. There have been many atrocious bad calls, Olympic scorings and underhanded cheating at all levels in sport. Referring to the past behaviour of previous players ‘men’ or colour is a frantic plea to misguide the process or create a better process. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate for change. I will do whatever I can for any person, age, gender, race to see fixes in our access to justice. In this particular sport conundrum there should be the opportunity for her to apply for over ruling or challenge. It is very unfortunate. The league should intervene, and investigate. I feel sorry for her. She plays hard. It’s no way to lose. Just like an SRL.

    September 10, 2018 at 3:25 pm
  • Aaron Huizinga

    Who is the author of this piece?
    I would like to comment on it but would like some feedback directly from the author?
    This seems to be a continuous thing with NSRLP posts or blogs, they are authored by a unnamed author.
    Isn’t this finding from the statements you make.
    My name is required for me to add a comment, why is the name of this blog author not required?
    Now I’m not a tennis follower or anything but I see a repeating theme from NSRLP which focuses only on women’s issues regarding SRL, and not the male side of SRL. Is NSRLP not gender neutral?
    Questions regarding this article:
    How can one accuse a umpire of sexism in a game match between two women? How does sexism come into play? Are not both women judged the same, even if someone had issues with women playing the sport would they still not judge both women equally?
    Rules are rules regardless of the sexual gender of the players. Case in point American Ninja Worrier, women compete with the same rules and obstacles of the male athletes. They are treated and tested the same, some obstacles are harder for shorter athletes and some are easier for shorter athletes, the same goes for taller. But the sport is completely gender neutral.
    Now for the race card? The author is suggesting perhaps race played in the judgement of rules? Is there any evidence to this at all at this point in time. If we are commenting on SRL being judged unfairly (or athletes) is it not hipicital of the author to then unfairly suggest the chief judge is a racist or would judge someone based on their race and not by the rules and not provide any documentation support this statement. Is that not the meaning of the word unfair?
    From someone who didn’t watch the match, didn’t watch the aftermath and doesn’t understand the game. These would be the questions that this article doesn’t answer for me.

    September 10, 2018 at 6:25 pm
    • NSRLP

      Hello Aaron, we are updating the site to be more clear about the authors of our blog. We apologize for any confusion. All blogs by NSRLP (unless noted that it is by a guest blogger) are written by NSRLP Director Julie Macfarlane.

      There is plenty of evidence to suggest systemic sexism and racism exists in both tennis and the justice system. We would refer you to the second article hyperlinked in the blog post, and to our Case Law Database reports, linked at the end of the blog post, as well as to any number of other reports and articles that can easily be found online about systemic discrimination in our society.

      September 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm
    • sandra olson

      it would seem to me that the racism and or sexism is stemming from the judge and serena. He is a white male,, she is a woman of color. And the identification of this is possible when one compares how this judge, deals with males, as apposed to females,, there is the disparity you will look for.

      September 11, 2018 at 2:08 pm
      • AH

        And that is my issue in a nut shell. The author did not compare or provide evidence to support the statements.
        The author of this article made statements without backing it up with evidence. This is at the heart of a current movement in our culture and in family court.
        The judge may actually be of non-white decent, he may be trans, he may be married to someone from another culture, may have adopted children from another culture.
        Just because a judge appears to be white and appears to be male doesn’t allow an author to stereo type or accuse that judge of serious allegations of sexism or racism. If someone is going to make those allegations then they should be required to back it up with evidence. Otherwise it’s slander.
        Is there evidence that this judge in particular rules in one manner for males and another for females? Is there evidence that this judge rules in one way for one race verses another way for another race? Before people make unfounded assertions, should they be required to post the evidence to back this up.
        Going through family court 6 years ago as self rep. against my ex and her lawyer and having child abuse allegation after child abuse allegation made against me with zero consequences against the people who made them against me. Our case culminated with case management judge telling me point blank “if I were the trial judge, you’d lose and you would have to pay her court fees.” In my case I couldn’t settle and be able to look into my children’s eyes and say I did everything I could to remain in your lives in meaningful way. And so a 14 day trial occurred, this was 14 days for just custody and access, not a single financial issue at all. Half way through trial a criminal trial was put on hold so a another judge could come in and try and settle our matter before my ex presented her side. Again she wouldn’t settle for equal shared joint custody. And so we continued. In the end our trial judge (who was the chief judge of our region) stated that our case was one of the worst cases of CAS manipulation he’d ever seen, and awarded equal shared parenting and for me to have final say over education. 6 years have gone by and my ex still claims I’m abusive and tells everyone who will listen that I’m abusive and a terrible parent. And yet there are no consequences for this behavior. The courts even condone the behavior. Verbal accusations without merit are abusive, and the courts would do well as treating them as abuse.

        September 12, 2018 at 1:08 pm
        • sandra olson

          the judge Was male,, and white. The people around him are not the issue. and you can see his color and his sex from the scene on tv. No calls of this nature have been made against men,, even McEnroe. who was legendary for his tantrums. He is also,, male and white. no matter what your ex did, or is doing, compares to this open discrimination. while it is unfortunate she is putting you through this,, the courts also allow this sort of abuse against women. now to how the court treat the self represented. it is a travesty of justice, the open contempt and disregard for the rights of the people who are self represented are documented. As is the open discrimination now against serena.

          September 12, 2018 at 3:18 pm
    • P A Rempel

      Hello Aaron. You have questioned whether it is valid to suggest sexism or racism were involved in the recent US Women’s Tennis final. Let’s look at it without reference to either.
      Two people were involved in a dispute. Each of them had a set of rules governing their behaviour and in both cases they pushed the limits. The player breached their rules by being coached, abusing the umpire and damaging equipment. These incidents have received extensive press. The umpire made several calls which had the cumulative effect of deciding the outcome of the game and, in the process, tarnished the victory for the other player. This breached a fundamental principal underlying virtually all sports codes that umpires should not insert themselves into a game. Umpires are aware that they need to weigh the seriousness of an infraction against the potential of affecting the match outcome. The umpire’s breaches have received considerably less press coverage.
      In fact, the umpire’s behaviour often gets a pass. The discussion of the incident either starts from the position that the umpire’s decision was correct or it changes the narrative to ignore the umpire’s contribution to the situation.
      For example, the Mark Knight cartoon which went viral shows the player having a tantrum BUT the umpire is shown asking ‘Can you just let her win?’ This re-characterises the incident as a spat between 2 children which the adult is attempting to resolve it. That’s NOT what happened. It was a spat between the UMPIRE and the player and BOTH of them behaved badly- but only one of whom is being lampooned. When people see these types of disparities they start looking for reasons and one of the obvious places to start are points of difference.
      Points of difference are not evidence of ‘Cause and Effect’ but where there are strong patterns which appear to favour one group over another, it is certainly worth asking the question and doing some statistical analyses. In any given instance the decisions can probably be justified but patterns over large numbers of incidents can show latent biases. So in the case the tennis match, people have asked ‘Is it because of her race?’; ‘Is it because of her sex?’.
      It is an equally appropriate question in looking at the behaviour of judges in the courts. Judges are also supposed to avoid inserting themselves in the ‘game’ but the rules can be selectively applied in a way which disproportionately favours one side. It is perfectly valid to ask the questions such as ‘Is this because I am an SRL, not a lawyer?’ or ‘Is this because I am a father seeking custody, not a mother?’ If there are latent biases they need to be addressed. Justice is supposed to be blind, not blinkered.

      September 14, 2018 at 2:26 am
  • sandra olson

    I certainly agree. I said in my case that the dna evidence was frauded. I requested the “right” to full disclosure and discovery of the evidence, immediately, the opposing counsel transferred the file to another jurisdiction, booked a court date for the exact same date as the discovery was booked, and had the case dismissed with costs without my even knowing what he was doing. When I say he did this, lawyers and judges all assume I am crazy and I just don’t remember him notifying me., when I produced the paid for room booking to prove what I was saying,, instead of hearing me,, and believing their own eyes, they refuse to respond, and disregard me completely. I am now labeled vexatious for demanding to have what I was guaranteed under court rules,, the right to examine the evidence. I have been told repeatedly that I am only doing this for,, 1 the money,, 2 the attention,, 3, I want this guy. The fact that I might be actually trying to access justice, is a foreign concept. I am trying to do the right thing by my daughter,,, well that is just ignored. Now,, I have an expert evidence report, that shows real proof of what I am saying,,, and do you think one lawyer would just take it and help me get it into the court???? not on your life. I am blackballed, and every time I ask anyone to look at the file or the report, they immediately want money,,, and will not follow instructions and put it before the court. Also,, will not return any of the money. What I am seeing in the judicial system is meanness, bullying,, lying and general creepiness. there is a bill from 1994 that was passed regarding the collection of dna the bottom of the report asks if the government should consider the issue of regulation or accreditation of the dna labs, as they are not. it seems it never has happened. this industry continues to enjoy their high regard in the judicial system without accountability to anyone. that bill is C 104 How can evidence that is unregulated and unaccredited be admitted into the court to determine some ones rights without regard for the mandatory requirements laid out in the evidence act for expert evidence to be prepared by a regulated industry BEFORE admission to the courts. I remain,,, abandoned and abused for suggesting there is something wrong with the judicial system itself. And yes,,,, getting angrier.

    September 10, 2018 at 7:28 pm
  • Judy Gayton

    As a person who suffers from outbursts of anger as a result of right temporal lobe brain injury, caused by domestic violence and subsequent iatrogenic medical re-injury, (the 2 incidences that brought me to court in the first place,) I find myself saying “ME TOO”, I get it.

    Although I have not experienced the racial discrimination that Serena has undoubtedly experienced, I fully relate to the lop-sided injustices faced by a majority of women who endured sexualized and other violence, discrimination and differential treatment. I too was subjected to the well documented sexist, systemic abuse, rampant in the criminal justice system that is supposed to protect our right to be safe in our own homes and communities. We are not.

    I have been on the receiving end of threats, incomprehensible scoldings better suited to a child, humiliating agreements on how to “behave’, all without having had access to appropriate rehabilitation that would have supported practicing and re-learning how not to be triggered under the relentless pressure of litigating 2 law suits simultaneously, at times without counsel and always as a traumatized, brain injury survivor.

    I make no excuses for my “bad” behavior nor do I expect anyone to give me a pass owing to my well documented disabilities. Once the gravity of my own reactions and the price I would pay for my inability to control my own spontaneous utterances hit me, I punished myself worse than anyone else ever could. Despite the righteousness of Serena’s anger, my guess is that on some level, she too will be harder on herself than all the cruel jokes mocking her reaction, could ever be. It breaks my heart to think about the fall out of it on her life.

    What I would have appreciated from my superiors however, is their ability to recognize that under the circumstance of my injuries, beyond merely being considered “disrespectful”, that medically speaking, my reaction was understandable. Tragically for me, that was also, too much consideration to ask for.

    What also strikes me about the background insight provided into these unjust calls, is that the consequences of SOME people’s mistakes are astronomically costly, while those committed by others, continue to receive a free pass. Who pays for “inappropriately” reacting to endless wrong-doings and who is allowed to just keep abusing with impunity depends on who is judging who.

    Be it a court of law, or a tennis court, an unlevel playing field is destined to find some people, consistently out of bounds.

    September 10, 2018 at 10:01 pm
  • Derek Thompson

    That is absolutely so true & the judges know this & use this agaisnt the SRL to antagonize them so the SRL does respond in a negative, & louder than normal defensive way . Then the judge(s) make the case or application all about the conduct & rule agaisnt the SRL no matter how bad the ruling really is, plus extra costs awards because you stood up for your self & refused to be bullied by a judge .
    The key here is is the SRL is responding in a defense way, in response of an antagonizing judge. The SRL does not come into the court room wanting to argue with a judge but to argue in front of a judge . So perhaps we can start looking at who started the problems the judge , the lawyer or the SRL & I am sure you will see the same pattern as me it is the judge(s) starting all & any problems in the court room then shifting the blame on the SRL . I have seen some judges grinning form ear to ear when they do this! This should be a ground for appeal & a ground for a complaint to the CJC .

    September 11, 2018 at 12:15 pm
    • sandra olson

      yes,, you are right,, the name calling, the insults to character etc etc. All of which is completely out of context of the case,, then they declare you vexatious, and bully you with court laws and rules. They do not hear you. And then afterwards the rest of the legal system, will continue to use his or her appalling statements against you to justify the continued abuse. I am still the victim of this sort of thing, anytime you criticize the judicial system,, this is what Is part of their response.

      September 12, 2018 at 11:53 am
  • Derek Thompson

    This abuse by a judge is proven in this link how after a SRL made a couple complaints agaisnt a judge & then the Associate Chief justice to the CJC , & the next thing you know a set up to declare a SRL a vexatious litigant & stop all actions with no chace of continuing after wards . = which then goes to the next protection system for judges the appeal courts = right to the top where you have to win a SCC judges lottery to even get a chance to prove your Charter of rights have being breached & or discrimination by a judge(s) ? =

    September 11, 2018 at 12:23 pm
    • sandra olson

      yes, it is systematic abuse by a system who simply does not want to hear from anyone They believe they can and will do whatever they want and screw you. And that is what is happening in our judicial systems. When you make valid and important points,, they pretend you are not talking, ignore you, and your evidence. That is sure what has been happening to me! And still is. I cannot find a lawyer willing to do anything other then take money, and vanish. oh wait,, they may stop to further insult me along the way. I produced new evidence.. they are acting like I am lying and producing nothing. It really is not a justice system it is a system of abuse. And guess what,, we the self represented are the targets.

      September 12, 2018 at 11:58 am
    • sandra olson

      I actually had the last lawyer who took my money for nothing,, tell me he couldn’t review my case, because all parties had to sign disclosure agreements, and my daughters father refused. Since all dna testing requires consents to release to be signed at the time of testing,, it is not necessary to do it everytime you ask for the file. I know this,, when I said this,, he went silent and quit.,. it is all a sham. The lawyers, the judges,., all of them, such a joke.. And their organizations,, law societies and judges organizations,, are there to protect THEM, not you FROM THEM. Their criminal behavior is fully supported by these shams of organizations. self regulated, clearly does not work for the public.

      September 12, 2018 at 12:12 pm
  • tom tupper

    a person with hundreds of millions of dollars isnt punished in any way-there is no suffering in her life-but SLR whistle blowers who are declared vexatious as a way to punish them do suffer.
    Black people who have little food,face discrimination,etc do suffer-NO ONE cares if rich people suffer-if they can have any thing they want and dont thank GOD but instead complain then they have problems.

    September 12, 2018 at 2:01 am
  • evelyn

    From my perspective,Ms Williams did not have a meltdown…She responded publicly to unfair treatment. She made me proud.

    September 12, 2018 at 8:00 am
  • sandra olson

    I will make one more point on this issue. One of the ways our society dismisses what women are saying, is to call them CRAZY,,, OUT OF CONTROL,, INSANE.,, MENTALLY ILL. This Is a way for them to disregard everything we are saying. it happens sometimes to men of course,, but largely,, this is done to women. It is done to the self represented by the courts constantly. If we are saying the evidence is wrong., and we would like to examine it. go through discovery,, etc… the attack will be, and always is,, we are crazy, and just will not accept reality. We need medicating. etc. This is character assassination,, and simply a way of getting rid of us, and refusing to accord us the legal rights we are equally entitled to. I know I have been the victim of this sort of attack,, and it would seem from the research done here, many others besides me. The issue of the legitimacy of the evidence, gets lost in the name calling and people,, even the judges start treating you as if you are in fact,, mentally ill and so nothing you say is valid, That is what happened to serena,, and what continues to happen to women in the judicial system here in Canada. Canada is not the safe haven it is portrayed to be. It regularly victimizes women just like serena,, just like me, just like all the others, simply asking to be treated fairly, and have fair access to the law. and EVEN SOME of its protections. That is where the charter is supposed to come in. At least in my case,, it came in,, and went right back out. This is still the approach the opposing counsel is using today against me. Just an old idiot, too hormonal and stupid to deserve to actually have the right to examine the evidence,, This is the oldest approach the courts have always used, and continue to.

    September 13, 2018 at 9:30 pm
  • Ian O'Body

    I have found this article and the ensuing comments once again interesting, but based on my own skewed reasoning. While I have found some of the comments more in line with my own thoughts or more thought provoking than others, the fact that there are diverse but understandable viewpoints is what’s most interesting to me. So, I propose to explain this, hopefully.
    The key component is that the conversation is publicly sustainable, and for a simple reason. Some people watched the tennis match live, but others have subsequently viewed video clips or heard various reports from other people. The exploration of the issues and the energy ensuing from the discussion is made possible because of this.
    Whether you believe the Umpire or Serena Williams is to me irrelevant to the greater issue of being able to decide for ourselves and support a viewpoint based on a knowledgeable discussion. This is something our present court system does not often provide, when it is (in my opinion) the most important feature of the courts. Too often, things happen in secret without disclosure. And trying to explain to people who were not there (i.e. no spectators) and don’t understand the technicalities (i.e. rules of procedural fairness for instance) as to how you have been unfairly treated or misjudged can make you look unbalanced. People need real context to become engaged in an issue.
    Turning the US Open incident on its head then: how difficult would it be to discuss whether the Umpire’s decisions were the correct ones if there was no easily accessible record of what happened. How difficult would it be for Serena Williams to challenge (rightly or wrongly) his judgments or for the Umpire to dispute her statements against him. What reason would there be for someone to stand up for either of them to even lend moral support, so that the person can hold her/his head up and say ‘Myself and others don’t see it that way, but such is life and I can move on’.
    This situation best highlights a crucial problem with our justice system. Too much happens out of the public eye, and trying to have a reasoned discussion of what went wrong after the fact and with only your word for it is just nigh on impossible. Some people try, but they just end up looking misguided, when they may have valid arguments that could be seen with an easily digestible ‘slow-motion replay’ to engage other people with.
    I would suggest that absent appropriate change to allow true public access to recordings or broadcasts of any (even minor) court proceedings (such as the US has): 1) take as many people to court with you as you can find every time; 2) make your own recording of the proceeding when it is within your legal right; and 3) petition your legislative representative for truly public, remote access to most court proceedings wherever possible (excluding those that cannot apply for valid reasons obviously).

    September 14, 2018 at 4:19 pm
    • sandra olson

      while this comment is correct on the lack of transparency issue,,, it does not suggest how or if the courts of this country would listen to the self represented. The last case of evidence submitted to the court, where the court simply accepted it as real, and 26 years later,, with people clamoring in the background that the results on drug testing that took their children,, was wrong,, is shown to have in many cases,, been actually wrong. While it was happening, where were the lawyers representing these people. The judges expecting actual substanciated evidence, None existed. families were destroyed, people were slandered. All because our courts accept evidence,, without any transparency, or even any studies that provide proof of accuracy. People who clamor they are wrong, are judged to be mentally ill. The same with our dna labs. Once again,, where are the lawyers who could have attempted to prevent this. once again,, why do judges allow this. People are left to fend for themselves against “expert” evidence,, that has nothing expert about it. That is if you are represented or not. I recently submitted a complaint to the law society of BC. I had a lawyer, who took my case, claiming to be a dna expert at handling evidence. he was soon shown to not know anything about the evidence. He then offered to return my deposit as he didn’t want the job, then he never returned it. I filed the complaint with the law society, who issued a judgement on his work etc, with no mention of what I filed the complaint about,, I wanted my money returned. I sent a comment back reminding them, their decision had nothing to do with my money. which I wanted back. Just today, I got a “FINAL LETTER” from the law society, insisting that they do not decide on money issues, take my matter to court if I wish. I am now puzzled,, if they do not deal with money issues, why did they open my file,,and deal with “my complaint” in which,,, what I was asking for, was the return of my money. it seems fair that if you do not know how to handle a legal matter, and wish to quit, go ahead,, but how do you get to keep the money for not working?? Transparency apparently does not count here either, So. unless the law societies, and the courts decide to start playing straight with the public,, we are lambs to the slaughter.

      September 14, 2018 at 6:34 pm

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