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Courier Responds Smartly to Questions About Williams Controversy

Serena Williams was the queen of women’s tennis, the unassailable matriarch, boundary breaker and face of the sport. Then came the US Open loss, and, before that, a verbal clash with an official that many fans have said was out of line. Those fans thought Williams handled herself with grace and poise, despite the momentary and uncharacteristic outburst. Others said there was no place in the sport for slamming racquets and yelling at officials.

After an inspiring, if obviously uncomfortable medal presentation, Williams continued to be confronted by the media, trying to dig deeper into what was, clearly, a story that was not going away any time soon. Finally, Williams gave them a quote that caused the story to blow up even more. The greatest women’s player of her era, the woman some consider the greatest female athlete of this generation, “insinuated” without directly saying, that sexism played a role in the code violations that were levied against her during the US Open Final.

Now, the official who made those calls, Carlos Ramos, is about to call matches in which the US Davis Cup team will be competing. Naturally, members of the team were asked their views on the Williams controversy, and if they had anything to say about Ramos heading into the match.

If ever there was a time for terse, but gracious, commentary, this was it. You don’t want to make an enemy of a guy in who’s calling a match this important. He may be a pro, and he may work hard to be unbiased, but if you call him out on international television right before a match, that’s a tough standard to keep.

US Captain Jim Courier played the diplomat, honestly assessing the situation while giving Ramos the benefit of the doubt: “It’s been polarized and in some ways politicized… But we have no doubt that Carlos was just enforcing the rules as he sees them. I don’t want this to come out the wrong way,” Johnson said. “But he enforced rules that have been enforced on me over the years.”

Interested in making sure he was quoted accurately, Courier was very specific about the intent and context of his comments. “I’ve never been called for coaching, but the racket abuse, the verbal abuse… That’s just part of the sport. I think a lot of it maybe got over-amplified because it was the finals of the U.S. Open.”

This was smart of Courier. He not only defended the culture of the sport and assessed the context of the situation, but he used that context to shift the blame for the uproar away from not only Ramos, but also Williams. If it’s the finals of the US Open, of course anything that happens will have greater consequence and greater emotion and attention.

Courier’s comments offered just enough detail, empathy, and honesty, so that he communicated a connection with the aggrieved Williams and her fans, without alienating the official that will help decide his team’s fate. This was a difficult line of questioning handled well.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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