Head injury, and disabled and black perspectives on Serena Williams

BBC - BBC Radio 4 Programmes - Saturday Live, 12/09/2009

This programme features an interview with Jade Bracey, a young woman who suffered a head injury after being hit by a car on her 15th birthday. She had to have part of her right frontal lobe removed; this is the part of the brain which deals with memory and personality, and it resulted in substantial memory loss and changes to her personality, as can be imagined, but she has made a remarkable recovery and plans to marry the man who was her boyfriend at the time. (We have a family friend who suffered a similar injury in the late 1990s, and while I don’t think she had the same surgery, she also had a drastic personality change and a lengthy recovery, although she went to college, with help.) The interview with Bracey starts just after 32 minutes, 30 seconds.

Also, over the weekend I found an article by a former wheelchair tennis player about Serena Williams’s outburst, which led to her getting a $10,000 fine after threatening to shove a ball down a line judge’s throat (you can insert the F words yourself):

The rules are there for a reason. Behavior that is not allowed on the court is usually distracting to an opponent and falls under the category of unsportsmanlike behavior. It is also true that it can be distracting to officials or make their jobs impossible to do. A tennis match requires that officials maintain control.

Why? Because as a former player, I can tell you that the game of tennis isn’t just physically demanding. It requires the ability to think, to strategize. Having no parameters on behavior would be like trying to play chess with your opponent jumping up and down and cursing after a move. It’s both distracting and unfair. Worse yet, such antics are used intentionally by some players to regain control of a match when things don’t go their way. I’ve seen it time and time again in matches where officials didn’t make calls they should have. I once had an opponent disappear for a half hour leaving me in the 90 degree heat on a court (note: the author has a high-level spinal cord injury and such people often have trouble regulating their body temperature). The official didn’t call my opponent on her long bathroom break and wouldn’t allow me to get into the shade. Although I was ahead by a set, I was almost unable to play due to overheating when she returned and lost the match. I found out later she was sitting most of the time in front of a cooling fan inside the building by a ladies’ room.

The Sunday evening radio, which from 8pm to 2am on BBC London is given over to black interest programmes, also discussed the incident; a guy called Dotun Adebayo has a two-hour show, and the Williams affair wasn’t the only ugly incident involving a sportsperson who happened to be black; the footballer Emanuel Adebayor pulled some kind of stunt in which he gloated at the fans of his former club (Arsenal) after he scored for his new club, Manchester City. Adebayo invited his fans to speculate that the nasty behaviour of two players who happen to be black might reflect badly on all black people, in terms like “do black sportspeople have the right to act up”, because it would make white people in general judge all black people by them.

Well, some might, but the fact is that most white people do know better than to judge all black people by one or two sporting figures. But I really hate his tendency to make a race issue out of everything that happens to involve a black person, to stoke anger among his listeners, and to indulge the paranoid rantings of some of his callers. The last wouldn’t bug me so much if Muslims who voice fears of discrimination weren’t told things like “don’t blow up trains then”. The tone of parts of the Sunday-evening “black slots” reminds me of the worst excesses of post-9/11 Muslim denialism, but that wasn’t funded by BBC licence fee money.

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