The Rules of Life

I sat in Boston Pizza yesterday afternoon, watching the women’s final of the US Open tennis tournament. The sound was off.

Naomi Osaka was playing beautifully and Serena Williams, probably the best female player in history, was struggling to keep up. At one point, Serena started gesturing at the umpire. It looked like she was yelling at him. Then she smashed her racquet onto the court, breaking it. More gestures, including finger pointing. More yelling. Two more officials walking onto the court to talk to Serena. Then she was crying.

What was happening here? I wished I could hear.

Naomi won the match and both players were crying at the awards ceremony. Virtually no smiles from the victor.

Only later could I piece it all together:

1. Carlos Ramos, the umpire, gave Serena a warning when he saw her coach giving her advice from the stands, using gestures. Coaching during a match is not allowed.

2. Serena complained to the umpire with words and gestures.

3. After losing a game to Naomi, Serena broke her racquet, also a violation. A second violation means that the player is assessed a one-point penalty. Carlos did that. (For those of you unfamiliar with tennis, a point is sort of one quarter of a game. You need to win six games to win a set. And usually a match is the best two of three sets.)

4. Serena continued to complain to the umpire. She called him a “liar” and a “thief” and said that he’d never again referee a match of hers. Carlos, again according to the rules, gave Serena a third violation, this one for “verbal abuse”. A third infraction comes with a one-game penalty, which is clearly far more important than a one-point one.

So … what to make of all this? Here’s my take on it:

In any human endeavour, there are rules to encourage appropriate behaviour and to penalize inappropriate acts. For life to work, these rules need to be applied to everyone, regardless of their status, wealth, gender, age, personality, or any other variable you can think of. The act determines the consequences, not the person performing the act.

If someone thinks that a rule is unfair, he or she needs to work through a democratic process to get the rule changed. In the present moment, the current rule stands.

In the tennis world, Carlos is known as a “stickler” for the rules. That term is often seen as derogatory. To me, though, it feels like a commitment to the truth, and should be applauded.

Do we want a society where it’s okay to berate each other, to cast aspersions on the integrity of another, to use one’s power to make inappropriate things happen? Well … I sure don’t want that.