New York Times tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg took some heat after saying an interview given by champion player Serna Williams was a “heated exchange” with reporters.
On March 8, Williams sat for questions after returning to the courts upon completion of her maternity break. At one point, Williams faced a tough question about her use of prednisolone, a drug banned by tennis authorities. For the 2015 French Open, Williams was awarded an exemption and allowed to use the drug because it was prescribed by a doctor for a medical reason.
But the question obviously caught the tennis great off guard and the resulting exchange was somewhat tense, Yard Barker reported.
Indeed, Williams started off sarcastically asking the reporter to “speak up” so “everyone can hear you talking about my drugs.”
Here’s the “heated exchange” @BenRothenberg said @serenawilliams had w/ a reporter. An exchange where Serena did not once raise her voice or give any indication of anger (when she had every right to) has been coined “heated” and “testy”. pic.twitter.com/cgB1GMziQH
— Mm… (@Joracle_) March 10, 2018
Williams went on to say that she has been “extremely honest” about her health regime and that she did nothing illegal.
While Williams kept her cool throughout the exchange, she was obviously unhappy with the whole line of questioning.
Williams’ tense response is what got the Times’ Rothenberg in hot water after he took to social media to ask why the segment did not get more coverage by reporters.
Hi Lenny, I couldn’t copy the link but I did take a screenshot of his tweet. There you can see he did say it was a heated argument and judging by the video, there was no heat argument, exchange or whatever. She wasn’t happy about the question but she answered it. pic.twitter.com/xFpsGectGr
— Roberta Cacciatore (@Rob_cacci) March 10, 2018
— Mm… (@Joracle_) March 10, 2018
As soon as Rothenberg sent those posts, though, others in sports media began to question his characterization of the exchange:
More like "cool, calm, and collected exchange." https://t.co/xDxEH5T5wu
— Alexis Ohanian Sr. (@alexisohanian) March 10, 2018
Calling this heated is pure clickbait …. I’m not sure how to forcefully defend yourself while still keeping an element of respect better than she did here. @BenRothenberg I’m guessing you’d be “intense” as well if someone questioned your integrity. You should be better https://t.co/uUP3dNH32F
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) March 11, 2018
Eventually, the reporter agreed that he might have been too harsh in his assessment.
“You’re right,” Rothenberg wrote on March 10, “heated definitely wasn’t the right word. Intense, but not heated.”
You’re right, heated definitely wasn’t the right word. Intense, but not heated.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 10, 2018
In the end, it is clear that Williams was quite unhappy with the question and was more than a little piqued when she began answering the reporter, but “heated” just might be a bit of an overstatement.
This incident over the Williams question is not the first time that Ben Rothenberg has gotten in trouble over a Williams sister. Rothenberg is the same reporter who was widely criticized in March of last year for correctly assessing that Williams plies the court with a hard-charging “guerrilla effect” style of play.
Many left-wing reporters criticized Rothenberg for using a word too close to “gorilla” and for sounding “racist” with his color commentary.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.