Tennis … The Unequal Sport

By the Spin Team

Tennis has a way of blowing its own horn or in this case swinging its racquet.  It has a tendency to push Billie Jean King forward (and for better or worse, Billie Jean usually steps forward) to promote itself as an equal opportunity employer.  It talks about equality, equal pay and treating men and women the same. It often says it’s at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.

Despite its proclamations, tennis often reveals its true self through the individuals it reveres or celebrates. First, the men who cover the sport focus on how the women look, what they wear, and how they scream/grunt or moan. They often speak of the emotional instability or lack of mental toughness of the women and point out the deficiencies of the women’s game rather than its strengths. As someone who watches quite a lot of tennis I can tell you that this particular blog was born out of a frustration of having to listen to male commentators consistently term grown women, some married with children as girls.

Second, the icons of the sport also reveal what concerns tennis. When they speak of the women’s game, it is with pettiness and envy. There is no one who does this better than Margaret Court.  I will not spend time talking about Court and her accomplishments and whether they are justified or not.  For what it is worth, she played in an era where there was competition (perhaps not as strong as today’s) and she won her Majors fair and square.  For that she gets credit.  For everything else that comes out of her mouth, she needs to take a step back and evaluate her life.

Recently, Ms. Court made some disparaging remarks in an Australian newspaper. She stated that she would no longer fly Qantas, the national airline of Australia.  Her reason:  the airline supports the LGBTQ community.  She took it even farther and commented on Australian player Casey Dellacqua and her partner who are currently raising 2 children by stating that they are going against God’s wishes in not having a father for their children.

When these comments broke I took the view that Ms. Court’s views have been around since time began.  There is no doubt that she has held these views for a long time. The only reason why there is so much outrage is because news now travels a lot faster and folks are more aware of what is being said and done by persons who should supposedly know better.  Today, because nothing that is done in the dark stays hidden, an article appearing in The Guardian newspaper of 1970 quotes Ms. Court as saying that the South Africans had got the whole race thing right.  Ms. Court made these comments in relation to Arthur Ashe being denied a visa to play in South Africa during the height of apartheid.

Martin Niemoller is quoted as saying

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I would add to this … when they came for the Negroes, I did not speak out because I was not a Negro.

I have done a search of Google to see if there are any articles, other than the article being circulated via social media, defending Arthur Ashe or condemning Margaret Court for her comments,  but as of the time of writing there doesn’t seem to be any.  I am trying to find a journalist who doesn’t owe his soul to someone else,  and who actually took up the baton and condemned Ms. Court for her comments on racial segregation, which she seems to deem a good thing.

Tennis protects its own.  It always has and it always will.  A few years ago a player who was a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame was accused of rape.  Once the allegations had been proven, many then claimed that they had known this man was raping young girls in his care. More recently, Ilie Nastase subjected Serena Williams to racist comments about her unborn child.  The condemnation from folks far and wide apparently made Pam Shriver recall when he tried to “grab her by the pussy” (or in other words find out if she was a virgin).

Tennis is littered with men (and woman) who have behaved abominably and nothing is done.  Jelena Dokic, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and who can forget that most infamous of coaches, Zelkko Krajan, who spoke to former World No. 1 Dinara Safina as if she was an imbecile. While we are on the Safin bunch, never forget Marat Safin’s comments towards and about women.  Right now we have someone sitting in the commentator’s booth on Tennis Channel who has made remarks about women that in every other situation he would be cast out and left for dead but in tennis that guarantees you a contract and a job for life.

Will tennis ever lead with action instead of pretty speeches about gender equality and equal rights for all? If tennis wants us to believe what it says about itself, it will have to start making smarter choices about who it allows to represent the sport in public.

The French Open

We are into Day 3 of the French Open and we have seen some seeds fall like ninepins.  Angelique Kerber went out to Ekaterina Makarova.  For a player who is slumping in the way that Kerber is slumping, meeting giant killer Makarova, who usually plays inspired tennis against top opponents, this was a hard match.  No doubt Kerber needs to fix what ails her game right now.  It is hard to be the hunted when you are so accustomed to being the hunter.

Kiki Mladenovic, many folks’ pick to win this tournament after her stellar play so far this year had to struggle mightily against American Jennifer Brady.  She suffered from a lower back injury for most of the match and one wonders what effect this effort will have on her for the rest of the tournament.

I won’t be doing much of a recap during this French Open as work is getting in the way of the tennis.  However my surprise picks are still in the tournament and I am hoping that they improve with each match.

If you are just watching women’s tennis for the first time, try and pull up a chair and watch this year’s French Open.  I am convinced that someone will be having a break out tournament this year and I am looking for a real surprise winner at this year’s event.