Are manners going to the wayside?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – September 14, 2009 – Bo Emerson – Bad manners, like swine flu, must be very contagious.

First, a South Carolina congressman shouts an insult at the president. Next, tennis star Serena Williams uses profanity while threatening harm to a line judge at the U.S. Open Saturday night.

Then hip hop star Kanye West grabs the microphone from teenager Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards Sunday to suggest she didn’t deserve to win.

Are we turning into a nation of oafs?

“We’re continuing to get more and more vulgar,� said John Murray, a tennis coach and clinical psychologist who wrote the book “Smart Tennis.�

Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and member of the etiquette empire, said mildly of Serena Williams, “She didn’t choose the best words to affect the outcome of that situation.�

And of West’s outburst, Post added, “that’s just plain disrespectful.�

But Post stopped short of claiming that manners have reached a new low. “When you look at etiquette, I see people standing up for the right thing and calling these people out.�

Indeed, the crowd at the video awards show continued to boo West as his name came up during the evening. West apologized on his blog later, writing, “I’m sooo sorry to Taylor Swift and her fans.�

Williams issued a statement claiming that she was carried away by the heat of the moment, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), apologized to the president, though he resisted Democratic demands that he apologize before the full House. Democrats in South Carolina noted that Wilson’s opponent in the upcoming election raked in about $100,000 in new donations immediately after the shout down.

Certainly public officials have behaved uglier on occasion. Even in South Carolina.

In 1856, Preston Brooks, Democratic Congressman from South Carolina, felt insulted by a speech from abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, and two days later beat the Northerner nearly to death with his gold-headed walking cane. This made Brooks a hero in his home state.

Murray believes part of the fuss over Serena Williams’ verbal assault is the fact that she’s a female tennis player. He said the tantrums thrown by such tennis stars as John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors in 1970s and ‘80s outstrip most of the behavior on the court today.

The famously combative McEnroe now has his own talk show.

“If you look at our history we’re a rebellious people,� said Murray, the Palm Beach, Fla.-based sports psychologist. “We’re tea-in-the-harbor and telling people to get lost. We have a little John McEnroe in all of us.�