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Opinion | I’m a Sports Fan. Hear Me Roar.

Sports sometimes present the public with Rorschach tests in which reasonable people can draw opposite conclusions from watching the same event. To some, Osaka’s tears and her address to the crowd might reflect a lack of mental toughness at best, and a type of immature narcissism at worst. From this perspective, Osaka, even though she was the loser of the match, had upstaged her opponent and turned what should have been a big occasion for the much less regarded Kudermetova into a moment in which Osaka, who made $57 million last year between tennis winnings and endorsements, cries in front of a national audience.

To others, Osaka’s address at Indian Wells was a brave stand against an assailant and a courageous act of showing her vulnerability. It also rightly reminded everyone that athletes, especially Black tennis players at Indian Wells, do not need to take such abuse from fans. Screaming at someone who is willing to be sensitive and honest about mental health is a particularly cruel act.

Another interpretation is that while Osaka has every right to act human on the court and fight back, a random fan yelling “you suck” doesn’t really compare to the mistreatment the Williams sisters endured, which included racial slurs and a cascade of boos. Not everything needs to be plumbed for its most dramatic, historic meaning.

But “you suck” isn’t the only mild offense that has caused trouble. Days before Osaka’s loss, Russell Westbrook, the embattled superstar point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, told reporters that he had grown tired of the derisive nickname “Westbrick” that people hurl at him from the stands and on social media. He said his son had taken to writing his last name on every surface he could find. To the elder Westbrook, this suggested a certain pride over the family name. “Westbrick,” then, wasn’t just an affront to Russell Westbrook, the basketball player. “Westbrick to me now is shaming,” he said. “It’s shaming my name, my legacy for my kids.”

Osaka and Westbrook violated the agreement — the agreement they never agreed to — that fans have with athletes: As long as we, the fans, don’t get too abusive, they have to hear from us. The line seems pretty clear: No insulting athletes’ families, no threats or harassment, nothing racist, nothing referring to religion or sexual orientation, no getting too familiar with their personal lives. This doesn’t mean that fans actually constrain themselves or don’t repeatedly behave in ways that cross that line, but there does seem to be some accountability for when they do, whether they are banned from a stadium for life or, at the very least, forcibly removed.

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