September 1, 2001
NEW YORK CITY
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight. We have with us ITF Grand Slam Supervisor Stefan Fransson and referee, Brian Earley. Mr. Earley would like to read a statement.
BRIAN EARLEY: All right. An investigation was conducted by the Grand Slam referee in conjunction with the Grand Slam supervisors with regard to an on-court incident during the match between James Blake and Lleyton Hewitt yesterday. After interviews with both players, the lineman in question and the chair umpire, and after reviewing videotape of the incident, it was determined that there was no violation of the Grand Slam code of conduct committed by Lleyton Hewitt. Furthermore, the evidence was inconclusive as to the intent of Mr. Hewitt's remarks to the chair umpire. Let me also add, and this is not written down, that the jurisdiction here is with the Grand Slam referee, who is me, and with the Grand Slam supervisors, the chief of whom is Stefan Fransson, here. Let me also say that I not only -- it says I reviewed the incident on the videotape. I did that many, many times. I will tell you that Mr. Hewitt's version is that the remark that he made -- and I have a transcript of it here -- "Look at him. Look at him and tell me what the similarity is." His explanation is that he was -- he couldn't understand why the chair umpire didn't see that this was the same line umpire who had made the exact same mistake, to use Lleyton's words, twice, in very short order. He couldn't understand that the chair umpire didn't realize it was the same guy. I will tell you looking at the tape, there was no gesture in the direction of Mr. Blake when he made the comments about the similarities. He did not use Mr. Blake's name; he didn't say, "my opponent." He made no reference to Mr. Blake. If I am going to go from there, from where I was and from the report from the chair umpire, who issued no code violation at the time and didn't feel like there was a code violation to be issued and didn't feel that it was a racist remark, if I was to go from the report that I got and from the videotape, it would be -- there would be a lot of inference. I would have to assume that I know and that I knew what Mr. Hewitt was thinking when he made the remarks that he made. Again, on the videotape and the audio of the videotape, the transcript of which is right here, you cannot make the case that he was obviously referring to James Blake in these remarks.
THE MODERATOR: We'll begin questions.
Q. Has this decision been conveyed to Mr. Blake? Does he know about this decision?
BRIAN EARLEY: He does.
Q. Can you sort of summarize what his reaction was?
BRIAN EARLEY: I think he'd rather -- he would just like to put the situation behind him. What he said was, "I learned a lot from that match." I would let you ask him what his reaction was. I don't think I can -- he didn't really say much when I told him.
Q. Can you say whether he's satisfied with the decision or unhappy with the decision?
BRIAN EARLEY: I can't tell you. I think he's happy that it's been made, though.
Q. Could you repeat the explanation that you had had for saying that, "Do you see the similarities between him and him?"
BRIAN EARLEY: Yes. His explanation was that he couldn't understand that the chair umpire didn't realize it was the same umpire making the two footfault calls. You have to understand, a footfault is an unusual call, and when it happens, it takes everybody off guard, not just -- I shouldn't say that, it doesn't take everybody completely off guard. But it's a bit unusual. Mr. Hewitt's contention was that it was just one person making this call and couldn't the chair umpire understand that it was the same person making that call.
Q. How many linesmen were in a position to make that call?
BRIAN EARLEY: Well, during any given match it could be four or six, depending on what the rotation is. Remember, this is a five-set match. So we had the potential that several different line umpires could be on the match. Baseline umpires in particular. Then also remember that the line umpire was switched, and that is not an unusual situation. We talk in officiating, we say, "If your line gets hot, sometimes we'll switch you with another line umpire. It will help to diffuse the situation." This was Andreas Egli who made the call, to moving him around after the incident happened. So as far as Andreas was concerned, Mr. Egli, he was diffusing the situation. So, yes, there could have been four or six people making a footfault call, but there could have been as many as eight or nine on any given match, especially a three-hour match like that was.
Q. You told us what Lleyton's version was. What was James' version of what he heard?
BRIAN EARLEY: James did not -- I spoke at length to James, and James wasn't really paying much attention to what was happening there. James had just won the game, was just on the break. He noticed what was going on, but he really didn't take much from the conversation. Remember that, too, it was very loud out there and our privilege to hear it was based on microphones on the court. We are basically listening to what could be called a private conversation with the chair umpire. While we do allow the microphones out there, sometimes they're -- they don't allow everybody to hear everything. In other words, we at home or we watching on the TV screen are hearing exactly what's being said. And some who's sitting six or eight feet away only hears little bits and pieces of it. The chair umpire is not speaking on the microphone, and the player is not listening to anything.
Q. Did Lleyton express any regret at how this was apparently misconstrued?
BRIAN EARLEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. More than I can tell you. Contrite is a word I would use, except that he didn't feel like he had to apologize for what he meant. He felt like he had to apologize for the way it was taken.
Q. Was this all done on the phone?
BRIAN EARLEY: No, I interviewed them both personally, and Mr. Egli personally. The line umpire filed a very short comment that he had -- that nothing was said to him, derogatory or otherwise, that the chair umpire couldn't hear. In other words, his comments about the line umpire were made to the chair umpire with a reference, gesturing, towards the line umpire. I will also say that in my discussions with James Blake, he was specific that there was nothing else in the match that led him, James Blake, to believe that there was any racial undertones to the match or there was anything personal going on out there.
Q. How long was the interview with Lleyton this afternoon?
BRIAN EARLEY: Five to ten minutes. Somewhere between five and ten minutes.
Q. If a player was upset with the same lines person making more than one footfault call, it seems reasonable that he would approach the chair umpire and say, "That guy has called me now twice for a footfault. Get him out of here." Rather than use the rather strange language of, "Do you see the similarity between them?" Don't you find that language a little unusual?
BRIAN EARLEY: Little bit, yes. That's why we're here. If it were easy, then it would not have been misconstrued. Or whether it's misconstrued or not, I can't tell you. I only can say that I would have to draw conclusions from what I see and what I hear that it was a definite racist -- that he was definitely making racist remarks, and I can't do that from what I have. I can't say the court of public opinion won't do that, and I can't -- I'm not saying that I'm a mind reader and that I can say that he didn't mean it. I can't say that at all. I can only say that I can't -- that it's very, very tough to prove that he did. That's why I made -- that's why we made the decision we did.
Q. Would it be fair to say that while you cannot conclude he meant to make a racial reference, you cannot also conclude that he did not mean to make a racial reference?
BRIAN EARLEY: Fair statement. Absolutely.
Q. Does the US Open plan to take any -- make any increased security precautions concerning Hewitt and his subsequent matches in this event?
BRIAN EARLEY: I have not had any discussions. I can't answer that question really.
Q. What, if any, bearing in your decision-making process is the fact that Lleyton has a history of making inappropriate comments on the court and has a history of denying them afterwards?
BRIAN EARLEY: Does he have a history of making racist remarks?
Q. Well, inappropriate is what I said.
BRIAN EARLEY: No, I didn't take that into consideration.
Q. Are you concerned about his behavior on court?
BRIAN EARLEY: I am absolutely concerned about behavior on court.
Q. His behavior?
BRIAN EARLEY: Players' behavior.
Q. I'm asking about Lleyton.
BRIAN EARLEY: I'm speaking to Lleyton. If there is an incident that requires a code violation and a fine, I can speak to that specifically. But I'm here tonight to speak about the specific incident that happened yesterday.
Q. In terms of making your decision, what kind of context did you put it in? Do you have any precedence of determining intent of language or any other past references to race?
BRIAN EARLEY: Yeah, I try very hard not to. I try to make the decision based on what I see and what I can show. So, no, I did not use any other context for it.
Q. From the interviews here, which were very lengthy, it seems to me that this young man is in denial about his behavior, and I think some form of sensitivity and an example should be set so this won't happen again. I think it's very obvious that this is a racial incident, whether it's from stress or winning or whatever, I don't think this should be something that we can overlook. The USTA should have guidelines with regards to this. This is very hurtful to people. I'm sure that the people that had input on this is trying to do something about the whole racial situation. That's why this is so lengthy. Okay? There are a lot of good people that are trying to do something. You seem to be trying to defend this wrong situation.
BRIAN EARLEY: Okay, I don't -- I'm trying to make a determination whether or not I can prove that it is a wrong situation, and I have worked and thought about this quite a long time, in discussions with the Grand Slam supervisors and, again, the people who were on court and involved. This is not -- this was not a USTA decision. The good work that the USTA has done in this regard, please do not overlook that.
Q. I think what I'm saying is the USTA should do something about sensitivity, let that be in the guidelines, or reprimand these people in a sensitive way so they can see what's happening. I think this guy's in denial. You can see it. All through the interviews and so forth, what he said. His explanation to you seems to make all the sense in the world. We talked to him for 20 minutes yesterday. Did you ask him at all, he had ample opportunity to explain himself in the exact same way that you say he explained himself to you, which would seem to make some sense. He didn't say that to us. Did he say why?
BRIAN EARLEY: I think yesterday -- no, I really can't speak to what he said yesterday. Let's just say that. I just cannot. I think you'll have to ask him that question.
Q. Did Lleyton indicate to you that he feels that this is a media-induced occurrence?
BRIAN EARLEY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. He did not say that at all. He was embarrassed that it was taken that way. He was crestfallen. But, again, I can't speak to the intent of anything, and that's the hard part for me and for Stefan and for the other Grand Slam supervisors. We are now put in a position where we're asked to determine the intent of something, and that's -- that is a very, very steep hill to climb. I see in all the things that you folks have written today, I see the words, "apparent," "implied,"
"inferred." Those words speak to my problem. Anything that is inferred or implied is very difficult to prove.
Q. Could you just explain under the rules governing the Grand Slam tournaments the reason you think players (inaudible) --?
BRIAN EARLEY: Absolutely there is, and Stefan can answer those.
STEFAN FRANSSON: The code of conduct for
on-site offenses includes unsportsmanlike conduct, would cover all those situations that you are referring to on site at the Grand Slam. That would have been where we would have been in case we would have felt that this was a code violation.
Q. Could you tell us if the lines umpire took any racial overtone from -- (inaudible).
BRIAN EARLEY: He did not. He did not. I can tell you that.
Q. What was his name?
BRIAN EARLEY: I think everybody -- it is policy not to give the name.
Q. Policy, he's a professional official.
BRIAN EARLEY: I can tell you who the chair umpire is.
Q. We know that. That was given out. We should know the name of this official. He's a professional official, just as they are in baseball, football or whatever.
STEFAN FRANSSON: I have no problem.
BRIAN EARLEY: Marion Johnson is his name.
BRIAN EARLEY: Yes.
Q. What was Lleyton fined when he made the comment about spastic to Andreas Egli?
STEFAN FRANSSON: I don't know. I have to look at that. I haven't looked for that here.
Q. Is that not unsportsmanlike conduct?
STEFAN FRANSSON: That's a different situation. Let's stick to this one here. That was totally different. It wasn't during a match, like this. That was a different situation.
Q. Mr. Earley, I want to read you a quote from the Journal News that's in the USTA clippings. The 20-year-old Australian complained to the chair umpire about the linesman who called the fault. "Look at him," he would say, gesturing to the linesman. "And look at him." Now on your tape, did you hear that and? And who is he referring to there?
BRIAN EARLEY: No, did not hear that and.
Q. Did you hear it on your tape?
BRIAN EARLEY: The transcript's here.
Q. Simple question. Did you hear the and?
BRIAN EARLEY: I did not. Absolutely not.
Q. Brian, I'm sorry if you touched on this earlier. What was the chair's interpretation of what he said?
STEFAN FRANSSON: Well, I think Andreas was the chair, just felt that he wanted this guy off the line. He called a footfault twice, and he took care of that situation. He also told him when, he told him that he would rotate him, as I'm sure you heard on TV, that if he moves another line umpire in, he didn't want to have any complaints about footfaults and all that. It's obviously, in a situation like this, with as many baseline umpires as we could have here, that it's the one person that makes the calls often sparks off a comment like that from a player, so.
Q. As far as any racial overtones?
STEFAN FRANSSON: He didn't feel anything like that when he was on court. He didn't say it was close to a code violation.
Q. Two things. Are you going to make available the transcript? I came in late. I don't know whether it's available.
Q. Secondly, could you read that sentence that was in question, or that phrase that was in question.
BRIAN EARLEY: I can read it. It's really very brief because it's the part we're talking about. "Change him. Change him. I have only been footfaulted at one end. Okay. Look at him. Look at him and you tell me what the similarity is. Just get him off the court. Look at what he's done." He, him. Always the reference is clearly in those cases to the line umpire. Which is not unusual, by the way, when we're talking about players complaining.
Q. In your decision process, it was just yourself and Stefan? Were there other people involved?
STEFAN FRANSSON: The other supervisors as well.
Q. Beyond James Blake, did you address this with any African Americans?
BRIAN EARLEY: We talked to the line umpire involved, if that's what you're asking.
Q. I'm asking if in the decision process, the people who came to this decision, including yourselves obviously, but the other people, did you go to any African Americans outside of your decision-making group to seek what they thought was going on on the court?
BRIAN EARLEY: No.
Q. The racial issue aside, do you draw a line between a player "complaining" and essentially impugning officials?
BRIAN EARLEY: Yeah, very, very close on that. I'm not gonna -- I could deny that I could have made a case for, "Yeah, he was impugning the -- he was saying he didn't think he was doing a very good job." But I can't go there and then not do that every time a chair umpire or a player complains to a chair umpire about a line umpire, "He's screwing up the whole -- he keeps screwing up." Okay, we hear that all the time. "He's made 50 mistakes so far," I hear that all the time. Yes, there is a line to be drawn in the clearest definition that we can make of that line, he didn't cross it in that case, no. And he didn't do it. He didn't show the man up publicly. I would tell you that, yes, he did gesture to him, to the audience that he was having an argument with the chair umpire and it was about the line calls down at this end of the court. That was very clear.
End of FastScripts....