Man, sports in 2020 just got even weirder.

I’m honestly not much of a tennis fan, but even I couldn’t resist clicking on a late-night headline that popped up on my phone yesterday that top-ranked Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic had been defaulted from the US Open for hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.

At first glance I was appalled. In my head, I envisioned the irate star slamming the tennis ball at a ref who had made a call he disagreed with. I understand these tournaments are always high-stakes games, but when frustration devolves into childish antics, I find it really hard to be sympathetic. Especially to professional athletes who make millions of dollars a year and whose sole job it is to be the best at what they do.

But then I watched the video replay on ESPN.

Djokovic didn’t slam the ball. It was actually more of a swat, if I had to categorize it. A slightly irritated lob.

And as soon as he realized the ball had hit the judge, his facial expression morphed into one of concern, then resignation.

A quintessential “Oh, crap” moment.

To me, it seemed just like one of those crazy, random, quirky flukes that basically characterize this entire crazy, random, quirky year.

Maybe with the addition of some crappy luck.

However, the fact remains—he should have known better.

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It doesn’t matter if you’re #1 in the world.

It doesn’t matter if you’re favored to win the tournament.

It doesn’t matter if you were gunning for an 18th Grand Slam title.

It doesn’t even matter if you meant to do it or not. Or if you went over and checked on her and made sure she was OK.

Rules are rules.

If you hit someone with a ball, intentionally or not . . . you’re out.

“There are two factors, one is the action and the result,” Tournament Referee Soeren Friemel said in an interview with reporters at Flushing Meadows. “And the action – while there was no intent – the result of hitting a line umpire and (her) clearly being hurt is the essential factor in the decision-making process here.”

So Novak Djokovic learned a hard lesson yesterday.

I hope he was humbled by it, which it certainly appears he was in a public and profuse apology he made on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy. As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being. I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry. Cela ova situacija me čini zaista tužnim i praznim. Proverio sam kako se oseća linijski sudija, i prema informacijama koje sam dobio, oseća se dobro, hvala Bogu. Njeno ime ne mogu da otkrijem zbog očuvanja njene privatnosti. Jako mi je žao što sam joj naneo takav stres. Nije bilo namerno. Bilo je pogrešno. Želim da ovo neprijatno iskustvo, diskvalifikaciju sa turnira, pretvorim u važnu životnu lekciju, kako bih nastavio da rastem i razvijam se kao čovek, ali i teniser. Izvinjavam se organizatorima US Opena. Veoma sam zahvalan svom timu i porodici što mi pružaju snažnu podršku, kao i mojim navijačima jer su uvek uz mene. Hvala vam i žao mi je. Bio je ovo težak dan za sve.

A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole) on

The line that struck me as most sincere in it was this:

“I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being.”

Sounds like great advice for all of us trying to process our feelings about sports in 2020.

Now let’s just hope he takes it to heart.

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