Andy Murray, Tennis Corrupter

That's nice, Andy: rub his nose in it.

Once upon a time, like, oh, a few years ago, tennis was a sport in which the ancient values of mutual respect between adversaries, honesty, fairness, and sportsmanship were paramount.  The periodic talented boors  like Connors, Nastase and McEnroe were aberrations, and their conduct was derided, colorful though it might be.

I am pretty sure that Scottish tennis star Andy Murray has put an end to this, unless the international tennis body or a public uproar puts an end instead to his bringing the tennis equivilent of NFL taunting and NBA showboating onto the court. Murray is a trick shot specialist, and at the London Queens Club tournament leading up to Wimbledon, he created a viral YouTube moment  when he hit a winner against opponent Wilfried Tsonga by swinging his racket under his leg. It was spectacular, flashy and fun. It was also rude, disrespectful and obnoxious.

Guess which the public cares about.

The popularity of pro tennis has been reeling since its peak in the Seventies, and its honchos would like nothing better than a little more flash and controversy. If it emulated some sports, organized tennis would jazz up its product by changing the color and bounciness of the balls, or having designated servers, or electrifying the net. Thanks to Murray, it will probably settle for allowing its players to act like jerks.

Hitting a winner in a match with a trick shot is in the same category as high-stepping into the end zone after breaking away in football, making a circus slam dunk in an unguarded basket in basketball, or standing, arms raised, at the plate watching a home run sail out of the park in baseball…only worse. What Murray did was an outright insult to his opponent, toying with him rather than giving him the respect of straight play. Naturally, the crowd and the commentators loved it. Naturally, Murray was unrepentant, and says he will not hesitate to take similar trick shots in the future.

This is how standards of civility and sportsmanship—which is really just the athletic version of civility—decline and rot. An ethics corrupter  is reinforced rather than condemned or disciplined for bad conduct because the incivility is amusing, or satisfying, or directed at someone who “doesn’t deserve” fairness and respect. The culture rewards the Corrupter with notoriety and celebrity, and soon behavior that was taboo becomes the new norm….until another corrupter pushes the envelope some more.

The public, the media, sports commentators, the Internet and now YouTube are complicit in this process, which  produces Allan Graysons in politics, Michael Savages in radio,  Ed Schultzes on cable, Ann Coulters on the lecture circuit, and, of course, LeBron James. Tennis, like golf, once prided itself as being a game played by ladies and gentlemen, and trained its young players accordingly. Now we will have aspiring players practicing ways to win points while simultaneously ridiculing their opponents and tickling onlookers….just like Andy.

There are larger consequences of celebrating incivility in sports, because who we idolize and celebrate have disproportionate influence over society’s evolving values. A society that cheers jerks will, sooner or later, become a society of jerks. If that happens, and it appears to be happening, it won’t be Andy Murray’s fault.

It will be all ours.

3 thoughts on “Andy Murray, Tennis Corrupter

  1. I’ve got a comment in me, I know I do. I just don’t know what it is.

    I think his actions are the logical conclusion when sports are consumed as entertainment. Surely someone said the first “Bicycle Kick” in soccer was a trick shot and was “showboating”. We blur the lines whenever we pay for The Harlem Globetrotters and “skills exhibitions”. On the other side, as athletes become more comfortable performing such “tricks”, it becomes one of their competencies. What looks difficult and showboating to us as viewers has actually become easy and the logical tool in certain situations for the competitors.

    It’s hard to defend Andy Murray’s actions though, as they look very showboat-ish, but here it goes: In tennis, and this particular situation, the players are fast and they respond to the body language. They see where the swing originates and they go to that place. By doing the shot the way Murray did, he disguised the trajectory and scored the win. Perhaps it’s a compliment to Tsonga that Murray needed to step up his game to score the final point.

    • Very creative defense, and almost plausible. I have actually seen behind the back shots that could be defended as the best possible way to win the point. I think Murray’s was actually risky…he had an easy doink winner without doing it the hard way. But your argument is the best imaginable.

  2. How about: “He’s just an asshole?” Put him right up there with Manny Ramirez, who didn’t care about his “sport,” made a ton of money, and now is out of the game.

    I’m beginning to think that the Ted Williams/Lou Gehrig model is an anachronism. Kids don’t respect their political leaders, their teachers, their sports favorites. After all, who shouldn’t play hard in a sport that pays about $20 million times the average American salary? And don’t argue about “short career lives.” It just ain’t worth it.

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