Richard Deitsch is a very well connected sports media reporter. When it’s appropriate, he will devote part of his weekly “Media Circus” column at The Athletic to a broadcaster to allow him/her to explain in their own words how they experienced a major moment in sports. This week, that spotlight falls on Chris Fowler of ESPN.
Fowler led the network’s play-by-play coverage of the US Open and was on the call of the absolutely crazy women’s final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Chair umpire Carlos Ramos handed out three conduct violations to Serena, which cost the greatest tennis player of all time a full game. It wasn’t the sole reason she lost the match to Osaka, but it did play a role in the outcome.
Fowler wrote that he has a lot of respect for Ramos and fans of the game know that he is a stickler for the rules, especially when it comes to coaching, which is the violation he cited Serena and her coach for. Fowler thought the game penalty went too far though.
I felt that Ramos had gone too far in his penalties. I qualified it that “given the gravity, many would say restraint is called for.” I’d stand by that. Umpiring is not only about the letter of law, but wisdom and judgment. They should do their best to not play a principal role in the outcome.
As for how the strange series of events was handled on the broadcast, Fowler says that his colleagues made the difference. First, he noted the advantage of having a color commentator like Chrissie Evret, who is one of the few people in the world that has truly been in Serena Williams’s shoes.
We showed the signal and Chrissie (Evert) was clear in her opinion: It WAS coaching. She said that Serena saw it and was taking Patrick’s advice by coming forward. I thought she was very strong on that. Chrissie is a fellow great who is close to Serena, but that didn’t influence her take. I thought Chrissie was strong and balanced throughout with her opinions.
Fowler also gave credit to Mary Jo Fernandez for her sideline reporting. He noted that Fernandez’s relationship with Serena made her analysis of the situation stand out as part of the on-court coverage, which was a pivotal part of telling the story of the match.
I was pleased our courtside mics caught most of the exchanges. It is very loud in Ashe Stadium with the roof shut. Difficult acoustics for all. As long as the mics are up, the most important thing is to stay out of the way and let viewers hear as much as possible, stepping in only when you think background noise got in the way or something needed clarifying, which I did. Mary Jo Fernandez added a lot from courtside. She was picking up on all of Serena’s emotions and knows her very well. Her descriptions were concise and on point.
Fowler said he is proud of how he and his colleagues handled the broadcast. The full essay is well worth your time, so if you have a subscription to The Athletic, click here and give Deitsch’s “Media Circus” column a read.