Social Media & Sport Apologies

14 09 2009

Discussion in the Tucker Center this morning was very lively around the topic of Serena Williams’ U.S. Open semifinal outburst, fine, and subsequent apology via her blog and Twitter account (also see picture here).

serena apology

I have a few other thoughts on Williams’ ill-timed and ill-fated outburst.
1. From a sport psychology perspective one cannot control the calls made by the umpire or referee, regardless of if a “bad” call occurs on match point or the first point of the match. Let it go. An athlete can only control his/her reaction to the call. This particular reaction showed a lack of mental toughness. In her blog Williams wrote, “We all learn from experiences both good and bad. I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.” I’m sure it will also make her an even better competitor than she already is.

2. How has social media changed the way athletes interact with fans and the media? Even though Serena lost control of her emotions on the court, she took control of her “brand” off the court by quickly posting apologies using social media tools. It left us wondering if these tools existed when John McEnroe was in the heyday of his outbursts (which were much more frequent, prolonged and arguably egregious), would he of used social media to apologize? (NOTE: In a Google search for “John McEnroe apologizes” I found one result for apologizing for bad behavior, and one story of an apology for bad play.)

3. Then it got me thinking how race and gender intersect with the outburst issue. Do we expect female athletes to apologize more frequently than we do male athletes? We certainly expect female athletes to act “ladylike”, refrain from grunting loudly, not throw tantrums or have outbursts. How much of the criticism leveled against Serena Williams has to do with the fact she is African American? Would the public react similarly if the outburst came from a White female tennis player–for example Maria Sharapova? After perusing one of my favorite blogs–After Atalanta–it seems I am not the only one who noticed or is thinking about these issues. What do you think?



2 responses

15 09 2009

Hi Nicole, I second you comments and would like to add a big “REALLY!” to a lot of the sexist commentary made by commentators during limited amount of the coverage I watched. How much research and education about biased language is necessary to effect change?? The discourse around Clijsters and motherhood was ridiculous! She didn’t lose a limb. She had a baby. Lots of women athletes manage to give birth and return to top-level competition. I’m not sure why tennis commentators seem to be so awed by this feat unless the message is that women aren’t usually capable of being tough. Another egregious piece of commentary I heard was about 17-year-old Melanie Oudin. She was called a “cougar” because her boyfriend, who was attending her match, is a year younger…REALLY!!

15 09 2009

I hadn’t heard the comment about Oudin, but that is a “good” one! There was much mommy talk with Clijsters but given that Federer lost I wonder if he as asked if being a new father of twins had anything to do with his loss? -nml

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