“Pick on me! I’m a man! I’m 40!”
Almost 11 years ago, Oklahoma State University Head Football Coach Mike Gundy lashed out against reporters in a postgame presser. The phrase was repeated so many times in the next year that I’m pretty sure it became the world’s first viral GIF.
Rants and sports go hand-in-hand. Whether it is Bobby Knight throwing chairs across the court or Allen Iverson “talking about practice,” coaches and players throughout history have allowed their emotions to get the better of them, often to comedic ends.
However, when they do, often times they are left unchecked.
When University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban rudely dismissed a reporter following his team’s week-one win, many in the media gave Saban a pass, claiming the reporter asked a stupid question. SportsCenter anchors have even put together Top 10 lists highlighting the greatest sports blow ups in history.
Growing up, I had a best friend who always got the best of me. He was probably six feet tall in the fourth grade, and he always managed to find a way to beat me in whatever we played.
I could not shoot over him in basketball. I could not hit a shot past him in tennis. I am pretty sure he would even find a way to beat me in synchronized swimming if we ever competed in it.
I learned very quickly that my play would not be enough to win, so I decided instead to play the mental game. I found ways to insult everything from his sneakers to his glasses, while he insulted my abilities by still winning.
I was forced to go with my last resort: ranting. I committed the rulebook to memory and pulled it out in every possible scenario. I would argue my friend into submission.
Last weekend, Serena Williams lost in a controversial US Open women’s singles final to young upstart Naomi Osaka, but it was her own controversial rant that has people talking.
Osaka beat Williams in first serve percentage, with fewer unforced errors and more aces. Coming into the end of the second set, Williams found herself on the ropes.
Tied 4-4, Williams was assessed a third penalty by chair umpire Carlos Ramos. Ramos had penalized her earlier for receiving coaching during the match and for breaking her racket in frustration. The third penalty came after Williams angrily protested Ramos’s decision, calling him a “thief.”
In her rant, Williams contested she was only being penalized because she “is a woman.” If she were a man, Williams argued, she would not have been penalized for her harsh speech.
She may have a point. Throughout history, fans and media personalities alike have lauded the rants of athletes. John McEnroe’s reputation is largely built on his on-court antics. Yet, he was seldom penalized, certainly never in a grand slam final.
In this case, however, Williams was in violation of the code of conduct, and according to Women’s Tennis Association rules, she should have been assessed a penalty. She was being beat by a player who was competing better than she was.
These outbursts against officials model the kind of rants I would make against my friend in middle school. While they make good television, they have no place in real competition. They are shallow attempts to subvert a better opponent and should be removed from the game, both for men and women.