Williams Trial Concludes; ATP, WTA Under Fire
Williams Lie-A-Thon Approaches Finish Line
As you attend Christmas parties and do your last-minute shopping, the Williams Family Unhappy Christmas Special continues to be played out in a West Palm Beach, Florida court, with this week’s 11th-hour witness adding to the drama.
Lots of lying has gone on in the trial to determine whether poppa Richard Williams signed documentation committing Venus and Serena to a “Battle of the Sexes” exhibition — with the father of the Williams clan going so far as to say he cannot and does not act as his daughter’s manager, but has (get this) NEVER been their manager. Poppa Williams later in the trial testified that he had lied, after opposing lawyers produced video tape of him trying to close a deal on behalf of his daughters.
But earlier this week, after everything was supposed to be said and done, with the final arguments made and the decision to be made by the jury, the “11th-hour witness” emerged.
Leland Hardy, the William’s family’s long-time business advisor, had enough of “disturbing phone calls” from friends watching the trial on Court TV who took in the lie-fest, and hearing the Williams’ family defense that Richard was not “a significant figure in the creation of stardom for Venus and Serena Williams” — and he decided he had to take action.
“I was supremely, emotionally motivated by being maligned and slandered to look for these documents,” said Hardy as reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Hardy dug to find a Feb. 9, 1999, document where Richard outlined the protocol for doing business with Venus and Serena.
“No one is to speak directly to the women and then only with their father’s permission, according to the document bearing the signatures of Richard Williams, Hardy and Hardy’s wife, who was also the family’s physician, according to Hardy,” reported the Sun-Sentinel. “The Hardys signed the document at Richard Williams’ request.
The document refers to Rule No. 117S425844 that strictly prohibits direct communication with the sisters. “In order words, for example: If you wanted to ask Venus the color of her beads, it must be approved by Richard Williams first,” the document reads. When asked by Richard Williams’ lawyer if the verbiage seemed like a “sick joke,” Hardy said the note’s tenor was in line with Williams’ “genius eccentricity.” “It’s hyperbolic and not out of the ordinary with some eccentricities [Williams] might have exhibited,” Hardy said.”
Rule No. 117S425844? That’s good stuff.
While the Williams’ defense team can try and pass Richard Williams’ megalomaniacal misgivings off as a “sick joke,” I’ll take the word of their long-time lawyer, especially when you hear terms such as “genius eccentricity,” which is code for “yeah, he is that nutty.”
This case doesn’t need a jury as much as it needs everyone in the courtroom hooked up to lie detectors. Are promoters Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes lying when they say Richard Williams tricked them as representing his daughters and committing them to the exhibition — and about Richard Williams telling Clark he wanted to be a founder of her company, Women’s Sports Zone, and saying he never agreed to let them use the daughters name for marketing purposes, and vigorously denying he has ever managed his daughters’ careers?
Hardy also produced a number of other documents showing him signing off on other events involving the sisters. But Richard Williams insists such documents were signed on behalf of himself, appearing with Venus and Serena — or he says the signatures are simply not his.
“Someone has been fraudulent,” Williams told the jury.
Someone certainly has, now it’s up to the jury to decide who. The jury will undoubtedly focus solely on the case, and not take into consideration the culture of lying that has always surrounded the Williams clan. Or maybe just lying to oneself, then going about the arduous task of making the rest of the world believe it.
You can’t count the number of press conferences where one of the sisters denies being injured, or denies something that just happened in a match, or denies reality. Last January Serena showed up at the Australian Open exceedingly overweight, yet as the press danced around the question, she insisted she was in great shape.
Serena likes to make the party scene with Hollywood directors and NFL players in tow, yet tells London’s Daily Telegraph that as Jehovah’s Witnesses, “We don’t believe in dating unless you’re ready to get married. I’ve never dated anybody.”
Back in the day as the sisters were rising on the tennis scene and in the public eye, Richard Williams also saw himself as a celebrity, holding up signs for the television audience which watching their matches and making outrageous claims for the media.
“This was a man who just doesn’t distinguish between fact and fiction,” said an unidentified industry insider during a CNN special on the family. “And he’s buying Rockefeller Center for $3.9 billion. And he owns thousands of buses. And he has a seat on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. And I’m not sure if it’s sort of controversy, so much as it’s amusement.”
Back in the day if you called Richard Williams on any of his b.s., you were likely to see the race card.
“The only thing I had a tendency of saying what I believe in,” said Williams years ago. “And I noticed when Mohammed Ali said what he said, people said that guy’s crazy. When any black person come along in this country and say anything, he’s crazy. Well I tell the world today I’m not crazy. I tell you one thing, I have plenty of money though, but I’m not crazy.”
Controversy or amusement, the Williams trial verdict will show if there’s any difference between lying to the media, lying to promoters, and lying to the court. Hopefully Venus and Serena can put this and their injuries behind them and American women’s tennis enters next year without a Top 10 American for the first time in the history of the rankings.
On Thursday the court found Richard Williams liable of acting as an agent, but doesn’t have to pay damages. The jury also cleared Venus Williams of all allegations, but said Serena Williams let her father act as an agent for her. Neither sister must pay damages. Guilty without penalty.
“The first thing I said to the jury is this case is about the sanctity of a contract. And the jury understood that,” said John Romano, the promoters’ attorney, according to the AP. “To say that I’m disappointed would be the understatement of the century.” Romano said he almost certainly will appeal.
ATP, WTA Tour Troubles
The men’s tour is another “family” (receiving the ATP media Christmas card, I was notified I was part of the family at http://www.atptennis.com/holiday/) having difficulties entering 2007. ATP President Etienne de Villiers is feuding with the ITF, their attempted calendar re-do and realignment of the “Masters Series” events has angered many a tournament director, top executives are being canned in their Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl., and European offices, losing their $10 milliom Mercedes-Benz sponsorship, and now they’re coming under attack from their new young stars who don’t take to some of their “innovations” for 2007.
The ever-lovable and volatile Scot Andy Murray, who is soon to be knocking on the door of the Top 10, told The Telegraph this week that the ATP’s new round robin format to be experimented with in 2007 is, in so many words, and you can picture Mike Myers saying this in his Scottish accent, “Crap!”
“I don’t like it because it favors the top players, big time,” Murray said of the round robin format. “And I just don’t get why there’s a need to change tennis from being a knock-out sport where you can play great one day, and horribly the next. Now you don’t have to be switched on from the first day because you can lose and still end up winning the tournament. Imagine Federer loses at a tournament with a round-robin format next year. He lost only five times this year. If you have round-robin, and one of the times that he loses is in the group stage, well he can still win the tournament, and so it’s not going to be as big a shock when the big players lose. They’re still in the tournament. And when you’ve only got three players in a group, imagine everyone is on one win each. You could potentially beat Federer and lose your next match and go out on sets won or games won.”
Currently Andy doesn’t need to worry about Federer dominating round robin events, as the Swiss has shown his disapproval for the format by not entering any round robin stops in 2007.
And while in the U.S., President George Bush is doing his best to do away with Internet gambling, amidst doing away with “terror” and the war on as such, Murray is worried about the round robin effects on tennis gambling.
“I just think that it’s going to be complicated to work out,” Murray said. “Betting in tennis could just go through the roof. Before it was more obvious. Previously if loads of bets went on someone to go out in the first round it was more obvious. But now you can bet on how many matches someone is going to win, and how do you know if it’s a conspiracy or if someone is cheating? Little things like that could end up becoming a big deal.”
Sebastian Fest of the Mail and Guardian writes of the problems in men’s tennis, “Everyone seems to hold everyone else suspect — and in particular the “Disney model” put forward by the new Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP) boss, South African Etienne de Villiers. “The circuit is focused on getting more money, which is understandable. But we are the guardians of the essence of our sport,” Franceso Ricci Bitti, president of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), told the media in an interview. “Money is never too much if it is at the top of the sport. I do, however, believe there is too much money in the lower part of the circuit, at the start of many players’ careers. There is money that destroys many careers — young players who get enough money to be satisfied and lose their motivation.”
de Villiers has trumped the round robin system as great for TV and on-site tennis fans, but could find it a hard sell in 2007 when even your No. 1 player says trash it.
“Just keep the knockout system,” Federer has said. “That’s so unique about tennis — you have one bad day and you are out.”
The round robin format will debut straight away in 2007 during the first week of play at the event in Adelaide.
Even the women’s tour is in upheaval. The WTA Tour is trying to re-do their calendar, shortchanging a number of American events that will under the new system have a hard time attracting top players. The new system threatens the highly-successful US Open Series of events, which has prompted the USTA to vote to put aside $10 million in the event they have to start a competing tour.
“We haven’t spent it, but we’ve just earmarked it, saying if we have to do it, we will,” outgoing USTA President Franklin Johnson told TennisReporters.net. “The board was resolute in saying, ‘You cannot let them do this.’ If it takes dipping into our portfolio and financing something like this, we will. We cannot let this happen. It will be devastating to tennis. We don’t know whether it will be for a competing tour or just to help strengthen US tournaments so they are viable, and have top players as a lead up to the US Open. The U.S. Open Series has been so successful. The tour has said it’s one of the best things to happen to tennis and they are preceding to dismantle it…[WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott] seems to be sticking it to America. I don’t agree with the whole philosophy to have more tournaments where all the top players play and then abandoning successful markets. You have to have at least a few of the Top 10 at Tier II tournaments. That’s what the men do. You don’t need 11 other tournaments outside the Slams where all the Top 10 play.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Former Beatles producer Sir George Martin speaking to Newsweek, asked if John Lennon was “just that cool”:
“John was certainly a very cool person. But there are plenty of cool people around now. Ravi Shankar for one, and Roger Federer for another. But not George Bush.”
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