What Dr. Seaver from Growing Pains taught me about Serena Williams

In the late 1980s Brad Pitt guest starred in two episodes of Growing Pains. In one he played Carol Seaver’s latest crush, Jeff. In the other he played Jonathan Keith, Ben’s favorite rock star. Ben won some contest or used one of his parent’s connections and got the opportunity to meet Jonathan Keith. After getting Keith’s autograph and picture, Ben left something (maybe a jacket?) in the backstage area. When he showed up unannounced to retrieve it, he walked in on Keith making out with a groupie and discovered that his hero was a womanizer and a jerk.

Ben Seaver and Brad Pitt on Growing Pains

Ben Seaver and Brad Pitt on Growing Pains

Because of this experience, Ben Seaver decided that he was no longer a Jonathan Keith fan and wasn’t going to go to the Jonathan Keith concert that night. He could not enjoy music written or performed by someone he knew to be a bad person. Ben’s father, Dr. Jason Seaver (a psychiatrist by profession) suggested that they catch another artist who happened to be in town. Dr. Seaver knew for certain that this particular artist was a good guy.

But, Ben answered, it doesn’t matter if he’s a good guy, because I don’t like his music. So, Dr. Seaver responded, you’re saying that there isn’t a correlation between being a good person and making music worth listening to. If that’s the case, let’s go see Jonathan Keith. Even if he is a bad guy, we can enjoy his music.

The moral of the story (because every Growing Pains episode had a moral): You can appreciate a person’s work without appreciating the person.

Serena Williams is my Jonathan Keith.

The younger Williams came to Wimbledon this year as the overwhelming favorite. With Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, the world’s second- and third-ranked players, suffering early upsets, it would be surprising if Williams didn’t win her sixth Wimbledon title and 17th career Grand Slam. The 31-year-old top seed faces Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm on Saturday in a third-round match.

Williams’s performance on the grass at the All England Club thus far has been unimpeachable. Her performance off the court, on the other hand, has been as impeachable as President Andrew Johnson.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Williams defended Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, two teens recently convicted of raping a young woman at a party in Steubenville, Ohio. Williams said of the victim:

I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people! . . .

She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position.

Williams says that she isn’t blaming the victim but then goes on to do exactly that. She also suggested that Mays and Richmond’s sentences were unfair or too severe. (Mays was sentenced to a minimum two years in juvenile detention, Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year. Both face the possibility of remaining incarcerated until they are 21. When they are 21 a separate trial will determine whether they should be added to the sex offender registry.)

Williams seems to be saying that the victim’s responsibility not to be raped was greater than the rapists’ responsibility not to rape her. She issued an apology, in which she said she was sorry, not for what she said, but for what Rolling Stone published.

To her credit, Williams spoke to the victim and her family for a half hour, apologizing directly to them. The family felt that her apology was sincere and said that they would be rooting for her going forward. So maybe we should forgive and forget.

But then, the same Rolling Stone article reveals that Williams, in a phone conversation with her sister Venus, took some translucent (not transparent, but certainly not opaque) shots at rival Maria Sharapova:

She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.

The “guy with the black heart” is allegedly Grigor Dimitrov, a Bulgarian tennis player (currently ranked 31st in the world) who is dating Sharapova and who used to date Serena.

Then there was last month’s drama involving Serena and Sloane Stephens, the up-and-coming American star who upset Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. After the media had portrayed Serena as Stephens’s mentor and friend, despite a lack of any supporting evidence, Williams allegedly unfollowed her would-have-been protégé on Twitter and avoided talking to Stephens for months. (They’ve since made up. And Serena is following Stephens on Twitter again.)

Serena Williams, getting ready to tell a chair umpire that she is "unattractive on the inside" at the 2011 U.S. Open. (Photo from Reuters.)

Serena Williams, getting ready to tell a chair umpire at the 2011 U.S. Open that she is “unattractive on the inside.” (Photo from Reuters.)

And even Serena’s on court behavior has been grating at times. She called an umpire at the 2011 U.S. Open a “loser” and a “hater” and “unattractive on the inside” (which is still kind of funny to me). And she lost the 2009 U.S. Open semifinal to Kim Clijsters on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after cussing out and allegedly threatening a lineswoman who called her for a foot fault.

Maybe I’m getting too worked up about gossip and off-handed comments, but after years of always giving her the benefit of the doubt, I’m finding it hard to like Serena Williams. And that’s a shame, because I love her as a player. Love. There are few athletes in any sport whom I enjoy watching more. I love her power, I love her passion (when it’s directed at her game and not at the officials) and I love seeing a 31-year-old dominate a sport that has always favored younger athletes.

Even though I worry that Serena is “unattractive on the inside,” I’d like to see her win Wimbledon, and I think she will. She’s going to wear out younger players with her ground-strokes and serve more aces than the most unfortunate blackjack dealer in Vegas. It’s going to be fantastic. And I’d like to see her win the U.S. Open and tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time Slams list. And I hope that she can stick around a few more years and pass Steffi Graf, or even Margaret Court.

But that’s me. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to go to the Jonathan Keith concert or would rather see Agnieszka Radwańska, Li Na, or Sloane Stephens pull the upset.

About Josh Tinley

Josh Tinley writes the Away From The Action column at Midwest Sports Fans, covering all aspects of sport aside from what actually happens on the field, court, or track. Josh grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from the University of Evansville and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports and the managing editor of LinC, a weekly curriculum for teens that explores the intersection of faith and culture. Josh lives outside Nashville with his wife, Ashlee, and children, Meyer (7), Resha Kate (5), and Malachi (3). He will not allow himself to die before the Evansville Purple Aces make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Follow him on Twitter @joshtinley or send him an e-mail.


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