Opening Thoughts

KATHLEEN TYLER CONKLIN [CC BY 2.0] / FLICKR
Parsing some of the top stories this summer

When I don’t know what to write, I like to read the news. It’s probably what everyone –– journalists and the general public alike –– should be doing anyway, but summer is just ending and the cobwebs have to be sheared off at some point. News should be read and parsed over. Here’s an attempt with a couple of the biggest stories so far.

 

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation cycle is chock-full of baggage to unpack. The Supreme Court nominee was recently accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault when they were both teenagers in the early 80’s. It’s probably wise to wait for the official testimony from both parties –– tentatively set for Thursday, Sept. 27 –– before passing judgement, but I’m having a hard time not believing Ford’s accusations. For one, she’s on record confessing Kavanaugh’s name to both her therapist and husband in 2012, well before his arrival to the foot of the Supreme Court. If Ford had a partisan axe to grind –– as some have suggested –– she wouldn’t have name-dropped Kavanaugh six years ago. It just doesn’t compute.

Christine Blasey Ford’s willingness to testify and bare all in front of a national audience is also very telling. Senate hearings can be bloodbaths that expose and tire even the most hardened politicians. They aren’t easy, and when the ideological balance of the Supreme Court is at stake, tensions run high. By agreeing to an official testimony, Ford has acknowledged her own certainty about what happened with Kavanaugh three decades ago. She’s willing to recount her experience to a group of senators who don’t have a great history of supporting women in the first place.

Ford’s bravery in coming forward, as both a credible victim and a successor to the Anita Hill case of 1991, should not to be undermined –– especially within a culture that’s stacked against victims of sexual violence. Unfortunately, this has flowed up to the highest echelons of executive decision making. It’s not hard to live a life free of sexual misconduct allegations –– just don’t commit them in the first place. Clarence Thomas is one Supreme Court justice with a history of sexual harassment hanging over his head. Adding another, at a time when even the president of the United States has faced similar controversies, would sully our moral core to the bone.  

 

Serena Williams

It was hard to miss Serena Williams over the summer. In the U.S. Open women’s tennis final against Naomi Osaka, Williams was issued a code violation by chair umpire Carlos Ramos for coaching –– apparently a rarity in the sport. She was later given a second violation for smashing her racket into the ground, docking her a point. Williams demanded an apology and assured Ramos that he would “never ever, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.” She labeled him a “liar” and a “thief” before Ramos called a third strike against Williams for verbal abuse of an official, which carried a stiffer game penalty. Williams contended that “men do things that are much worse” and wouldn’t have been penalized in such a manner. She then lost the match.

Bringing up sexism was a poor excuse for Williams’ own immature actions. It’s a dubious claim because Carlos Ramos has a history of strict rules interpretations that have affected male superstars as well. And pointing to male behavior as a reason to bully an arbiter of sport is silly. Is the worst male behavior worth emulating?

Dig deeper and we find that Serena Williams has a history of verbal abuse and conflict with tennis officials of both sexes. In the 2009 U.S. Open, she threatened to “take this ball and shove it down” the line judge’s “f–king throat” after a relatively minor foot fault. Williams told another chair umpire that she was “very unattractive inside” in 2011. That’s not behavior sons and daughters should be internalizing.

After the most recent U.S. Open, we saw opinions that defended Williams’ verbal abuse as “liberat[ing] herself of constraint” or completely absolving her, instead pinning the blame on an umpire who “couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.” Offering solutions based on identity politics is usually a tricky business, and it didn’t work here. Serena Williams’ history of outbursts and fines transcends these narratives and helps show her true character. She’s the best tennis player of all time, but an entitled one at that.

 

Tiger Woods

To end on a dorkier note, Tiger Woods –– the only golfer anyone’s ever heard of –– is back. Tiger mania was muted after his adultery scandal and multiple spinal surgeries. That he’s soared into the headlines again after a summer of good performances at big tournaments –– culminating with his first PGA Tour victory in more than five years this past Sunday –– is great for golf’s image. Tiger brings excitement and passion where polite clapping and dress pants are fodder for haters (and they may have a point). No other golfer induces obnoxious shouts of “Get in the hole!” on every shot from drunk men. Golf actually feels like a sport now! Sundays used to be the NFL’s sole domain; with Tiger Woods, there may be some competition at last.

 

Written by: Nick Irvin –– ntirvin@ucdavis.edu  

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