Either a defiant rebel holds sway at the bottom of Michael Llodra's well-documented prankster personality, or he's really, really, really (did I say "really?") stupid. That's the only conclusion I can draw from his reaction to having been fined $2,500 for his remark toward a spectator.
I'm not going to repeat what Llodra had to offer by way of apology to the Chinese website SINA.com following the incident that triggered the fine (during his match against Ernests Gulbis, a frustrated Llodra turned to a Gulbis supporter of Asian descent and audibly uttered "F- - - - - - Chinese."). But you can read it at the bottom of this item.
My only question is whether or not Llodra was actually trying to apologize, or consciously adding insult to injury out of some deep-seated sense that he was being treated unfairly. Whatever the case, Llodra's remark about Chinese women was so insulting that it makes his original offense look almost benign. Come to think of it, that may be part of the larger problem here.
What sort of disappoints me is why some websites and commentators seem so focused on emphasizing the "racist" nature of those two words Llodra spat out at the aggrieved fans. As they were Asian, he was clearly indulging in a common form of stereotyping.
But just as clearly, "Chinese" is not a derogatory word, and the gerund derived from the verb that begins with an "f" and ends with a "k," is certainly a commonly enough applied descriptive adjective. Like many of you, I've used the same phrasing when I've been frustrated by a politician, a knot in a shoelace, a drug-store cashier, and my own dog, Buck.
Effing dog. There. I said it.
Llodra was fined for venting, and reaching for the first handy label he could hang on the fans who irritated him. I'll also be the first to admit that what subsequently Llodra told SINA.com supports the idea that this guy has a problem with the Chinese. But isn't it weird that those later remarks seem far more offensive and racially-tinged than one that led to the levy of the fine? It's never a good sign when our first instinct is to identify a person on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. On the other hand, people do it all the time; should they be fined for it when there's nothing inherently demeaning in their choice of words?
And what would have been the offense and fine had the spectators been called, say, "Effing Americans?" Is it worse to taunt on the basis of race, ethnicity, or nationality, and at what point does height, weight, or hair color take a rung on that great, towering ladder of grievance?
Apparently, Daniel Lee and Alex Lee Barlow, the two at the heart of this issue, don't think the fine was adequate. Daniel Lee told TENNIS.com via email: "I definitely don't think $2,500 is enough. It's just a slap on the wrist. One thing that isn't being stressed enough is that we were paying spectators—tennis fans—essentially giving him, a professional, money to watch him play. And in exchange for that, we were abused."
True enough. And while I sympathize with Lee and Barlow, at what point do you cut a professional athlete some slack, knowing the intensity inherent in pro sports? Barlow, Lee offered, was rooting for Gulbis in English. Clearly, she was doing so volubly enough to get under Llodra's skin. That doesn't excuse what Llodra said, not by any means. But it certainly helps explain why he might have lashed out so unprofessionally.
"We're lucky the slurs didn't come from a player we actually support," Lee also wrote. "Like [Rafael] Nadal or [Juan Martin] del Potro. Of course, neither one of them would ever act like Llodra did."
Well. . . no. Nadal and Delpo are gentleman of a higher caliber than Llodra. But I also think it's safe to say Llodra wouldn't have blown his cool either, had Lee and Barlow been supporting him.
And Lee also wrote: "Another piece of information that is being misrepresented is that we are not Chinese! We are Americans of Korean decent (sic)"
Why am I not surprised at this final twist? It only highlights the fact that Llodra is an equal opportunity stereotyper and/or offender.
The ATP must police its players and hold them accountable for projecting a certain level of professionalism, so I don't have a problem with Llodra incurring a fine. But I also don't believe that it's criminal to be offensive, or just plain stupid, even in this increasingly anti-septic, bloodless world. And that's a good thing for Llodra. For if it were, he might be serving 22 consecutive life-sentences—plus one day.