Serena, Foot Faults and Culture

By Thomas Kochman - 09.16.2009

Serena William’s reaction to the foot fault called by a line judge at a critical juncture in the semifinal match with Kim Clister’s at the 2009 U.S. Open has been covered extensively by the media. One issue under discussion is whether the call should have been made given the situation regardless of whether the foot fault actually occurred or not.  

 “One philosophy is that it is a rule, and you call it when you see it,” Cox said. “The second way of thinking is more in line with a good N.B.A. official: You don’t make a call that can decide a match unless it’s flagrant.”

John McEnroe had a similar view to the N.B.A. comparison when he was commenting on the CBS broadcast on Saturday night. “You can’t call that there,” he said.

These different views of the situation have one thing in common: they assume that the line judge had discretionary authority in the matter: that in the final analysis it was a matter of individual choice: the line judge could just have easily decided not to call the foot fault as to call it.

Let me offer a different take on what was going on. It has to do with culture and personality and that the line judge was an East Asian woman.

Individuals coming from cultures that are position and role driven –hierarchical cultures around the world: Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc. — are very careful not to behave in ways that their role or position has not authorized. As Confucius said, “If you know your position, you know your role. And if you know your role you know how to behave.”

Acting at one\’s own discretion without authorization or regard to role and position –yours or others– is a violation of the established social order in those cultures and simply not done. This applies to both men and women in those cultures, but women especially. Read more »