Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What happened to Serena during Wimbledon Doubles?

On ESPNW, Martina Navratilova had an interesting take on what happened during Serena and Venus Williams' doubles match yesterday. 
I now wonder if Serena is suffering burn-out. I don't know about all the physiological signs she was exhibiting in her doubles match (see video), but her singles loss against Cornet was clearly not Serena at her best - which is not to take anything away from Cornet or anyone else who has beaten Serena this year.

Think about what Serena accomplished last year... It was arguably the greatest year in her career. She won over $12 million in prize earnings - not even counting endorsements (which are still less than Sharapova, but that's another story). Given what a great year Serena had last year, maybe she just needed a break. She is 32 years old after all (I never thought I would think of that as young!:-) During much of her early career, Serena did not play as intensely as she did over the past 2 years. After she lost to Garbine Muguruza at the French, she said she would go out and work 5 times as hard so she would never lose again. Maybe she needs a break. Maybe that is what her body is telling her now.

And then there is the issue of why she even went out onto the court if she was in such a state of disorientation! I can think of a good reason for that - remember Indian Wells in 2001? When Venus withdrew from the tournament, Serena heard the vitriolic booing of fans who thought her win by default over Venus was "fixed" by her father. The suggestion that she just could have defaulted fails to take into account what has happened in the past when either she or Venus defaulted. That's why I think Venus was proud of Serena for at least trying to play!

What do you think?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Donald Sterling's Offensive Remarks Reveal Deeper Issues in Sport

The recent "alleged" comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling (above) have quickly circulated throughout the NBA and amongst basketball fans. By now you have no doubt at least heard of the tape of Sterling that was released by TMZ, alleging that in conversations with his girlfriend (V. Stiviano, on Sterling's left), Sterling asked that she not bring African Americans to Clippers' games. He even asked that she not bring Magic Johnson to their games. In response to the polarizing comments, many NBA owners, former and current players, and even President Obama have spoken out in protest. Current Clipper team members had a silent protest by turning their jerseys inside out (so that the name of the Clippers would not be seen) and they wore black socks when they played.
The alleged comments by Donald Sterling reveal what ESPN's Scoop Jackson (2014) believes to be deeper issues, not just in the NBA but in all of sport. We have talked about some of these issues in previous Sport and Gender classes. And we have also discussed whether professional athletes should take a stand on political issues. In this case, we can see that many already have. Even the usually reluctant Michael Jordan expressed his views as an owner and former player, saying that as an owner, he was "completely disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views" (Terrill, 2014, para. 18). As a former player, Jordan said that he was "completely outraged" (Terrill, 2014, para. 19). Magic Johnson spoke out to say that Sterling should not be allowed to own a team if the comments can truly be attributed to him.

The deeper issues outlined by Jackson (2014) provide even more compelling evidence that racism is alive and well in sport. We would like to believe that in 2014 we have come much further than this - and yet, there is evidence in every major professional sports' league that racism persists. Among the evidence that Jackson points out:  (1) He asks how is it that in a league that is 80% black, "there is only one majority black owner of an NBA franchise" (para. 6); (2) In MLB, where Jackie Robinson crossed the color barrier to open doors to African Americans, only about 10% of the players today are African American; (3) In the NFL, it takes the Rooney Rule for owners to be encouraged (by threat of punishment) to even interview a minority candidate as a coach; and (4) in 2011, in the NHL Wayne Simmonds (below) was rattled by someone throwing a banana on the ice in front of him.

This is 2014! Racism is supposed to be over. Yet, all of this evidence indicates that it is not. What will it take? And what should these NBA players (on the Clippers, in the League, and the other owners) do to combat the hateful words spun by Sterling? What should the new Commissioner Adam Silver do? Better yet, why hasn't he said something already? How long does it take to confirm that the tape reveals Donald Sterling?

Earlier today, Dan Patrick asked Bomani Jones to finish this sentence: "In a year from now, if Donald Sterling is still the owner of the L.A. Clippers, it will be__________________." Bomani completed the sentence by saying... "business as usual." Let us hope that is not the fate of the NBA, or of our society. Let us hope that enough people express outrage so that something changes dramatically.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The "Real Hoax" Behind the "Battle of the Sexes"

Friday, September 20 was the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Sexes, which prompted ESPN to promote a story that seems to undermine the validity of what occurred in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome. In effect, ESPN wants us to believe that a hoax occurred in which Bobby Riggs “fixed” the match against Billie Jean King so he could settle his gambling debts with the mob.

Could it have happened?

Given Bobby’s proclivity for gambling and hanging out with mob-types, perhaps it could have happened as then 79-year old former golf pro Hal Shaw described it to ESPN writer Don Van Natta. Bobby’s son (Larry) admitted as much. In fact, after observing how little his father had prepared for the match against King, Larry decided to not even attend the match in Houston.

But what if the so-called hoax was really part of a larger plan in which Billie Jean King and Margaret Court colluded to set up Riggs so that he would pitch the idea to the mob – believing, of course, that he was the mastermind? And all this time, no one knew that the two women were really the ones who orchestrated the ‘fix of the fix’ so that women’s tennis would become the most lucrative sport for women?

Now that Hal Shaw has told his story about overhearing mobsters, there’s another story that needs to be told.

This until-now untold story involved a woman named Sally Haw, who was an Assistant Tennis Pro at the St. Charles Tennis Club in Detroit, where she didn’t actually get paid because let’s face it, women didn’t do sports in those days. In fact, they didn’t even call her an Assistant Tennis Pro, even though she strung rackets, gave tennis lessons, organized leagues and basically ran the Pro Shop. 
Anyway, while attending a tournament in Detroit, Sally happened onto an elevator where the famous tennis players, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King, were deep in conversation. Star struck to be on the same elevator with two of the most famous women tennis players in the world, Haw kept very quiet, not saying a word. [Fortunately for her, she was used to being invisible to people who were famous].

As it turned out, the women tennis players were embroiled in their own conversation and didn’t even notice the diminutive Haw. Thanks to Haw’s propensity for remembering details she was able to re-construct the conversation perfectly – even though it was 40 years ago.

Much to Haw's surprise, Margaret was the more vocal of the two in this conversation.

"Billie, you’ve got to let me play him first. He’ll never suspect that we are setting him up. Look, everyone knows he’s a gambler and he owes a boatload of money to the mob…”

“That’s not the Bobby I know,” Billie Jean responded. “He would never hang out with mob guys. How do you know he would fall for this?”

“Look at the guys he plays golf with,” Margaret continued. “Do you think he hangs with those guys for their pasta? No way… It’s obvious he’s a mob puppet.”

“It’s not so obvious to me,” Billie Jean continued. “Besides, that’s golf. What makes you think he’d agree to fix a tennis match? He has too much integrity for that!”

“Integrity? Bobby? You cannot be serious!!”

“Margaret, how can you say that?”

“Well, Billie, think about it… C’mon! Bobby has been bugging both of us for months now. He wants to play one of us so he can hype it up and make all this money. Aren’t you getting a little sick of his rhetoric? ‘Even a tired-old man of 55 can beat the No. 1 woman in the world…?’

“Yes, but I don’t have time for that… we don’t have time for it. We’ve got a pro tennis tour to promote. And what will people say if we lose…”

“Not if you or I lose – when one of us loses… we’ve got to lose the first match so he thinks he can con another one of us into playing a second match. That’s how he sells it to the mob… there has to be a bigger pay day to follow. If he thinks he’s in control, then he believes he can sell it to the mob…”

“How do you know he’ll buy it, Margaret? Heck, how do you know the mob will buy it?” Billie Jean asked.

“Please, Billie. You don’t think I’ve been cultivating this ‘nicest-mother-on-the-tour-image’ for nothing! What do you think Barry does? He’s not content as a stay-at-home dad. He’s been on the take for years. Why do you think he wanted to marry me? He knew he could make millions off my career. I just had to agree not to spout any of that feminist rhetoric. It makes me more believable when the fix goes down.”

“Wow, Margaret, you are blowing my mind!”

“It’s about time!... so what do you think?” Margaret asked as the elevator stopped and the women exited.

Sally leaned forward to hear what King would say, but she knew she dared not follow them. What if they saw her? She knew that either one of them could easily finish her off with a deadly overhead. She had to keep silent. After all, there’s nothing worse than betraying a (woman) tennis player who’s a shill for the mob!

So, why now? Why is Sally coming forward with her story on this, the 40th anniversary of the most famous tennis match ever?

“I finally got fed up hearing stories about what Hal Shaw was saying,” Sally said. “Yes, he overheard the mobsters talking, but they really thought they were in control of the narrative. Of course, they bought into the idea that a woman couldn’t beat a man – that was patriarchy at work! And, of course, ESPN was pumped about sharing that story. They’re all about men’s sports. How could they ever think that women’s advances were legitimate? They had to get the last laugh!...

“But I couldn’t let that happen. That’s why I had to come forward now!”      

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Are you watching Indian Wells?"

This is the time of year when tennis is heating up! As a former player, coach/teaching pro, and fan of the game, this is a time when I would normally be watching what is considered by some to be the "fifth Grand Slam" - i.e., the BNP Paribas Tournament at Indian Wells. But to be honest, I have had difficulty watching that tournament ever since March 17, 2001, when the Williams family faced "one of the ugliest scenes in the sport's history" (Jenkins, 2013, para. 3). From my perspective, I cannot think of an uglier moment!

Now I am an Associate Professor in Sport Management at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), where I teach an undergraduate class about "Sport and Gender" and a graduate course on "Sport and Society." Since the BNP Paribas Tournament occurs midway through the semester, I typically assign articles related to the racialized incident that occurred in 2001. In class, we discuss if and/or how racism operated in that situation, and how students as future sport managers could address racism in sport. For those who are not familiar with what happened at Indian Wells, the incident is documented by Joel Drucker (2009) in this summary.

In 2001, I was among those eagerly awaiting the live televised match that would feature the Williams sisters playing one another professionally for only the sixth time. I remember seeing them play in their first match at the Ericsson (in 1999) when Venus won in three sets. I also watched as Venus defeated Serena in their 2000 semifinal match at Wimbledon. I could not have been more excited to see their sixth match-up, especially since it was scheduled to be shown live on ESPN. Naturally, I was disappointed to learn that Venus had defaulted - supposedly just moments before the match was scheduled to begin. I don't remember if they showed another match to fill in the time slot. But I do remember seeing the finals between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters when it was played two days later.

Watching that final match left an indelible mark on me, so I can begin to understand how it must have felt for the Williams sisters. Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez were commentators for the final match. I remember Mary Joe saying that tournament officials knew "something might happen," and they had warned ushers to be prepared. In light of their forewarning, I could not understand why no one intervened when the ugliness began. The vitriolic booing by fans started as soon as Serena was introduced; it escalated when Venus and Richard Williams entered the Stadium to take their seats for the final. As the match got underway, fans did the unthinkable - for a tennis crowd - they booed loudly each time Serena made an error or lost a point. The clip below shows what happened:

After showing this clip in class, we usually discuss whether the Williams sisters should return to Indian Wells. Based upon my observations over the years, I have witnessed a growing consensus among students that Venus and Serena are justified in not returning to Indian Wells. When asked why they believe that, students say that the original incident was never really addressed (i.e., nothing was done at the time) and there is no guarantee that things would be different if they returned to Indian Wells. One student noted that if fans were upset 12 years ago, how do we know that they would not harbor ill will and demonstrate their displeasure even moreso now.

In a powerful article on, Elizabeth Newman (2013) argues that "Calls for Williams sisters to return to Indian Wells are wrong." Newman explains how unusual it is to display such behavior in tennis, writing, "we're talking about tennis, a sport steeped in etiquette, decorum and protocol; a sport where errant catcalls and whistling are considered low brow" (para. 10). When we discuss the incident in my classes, students often wonder if such behavior ever happens in other tennis matches. I tell them it might happen during hotly-contested Davis Cup matches, although it rarely occurs when a player competes in her own country. I recall seeing fans display their displeasure toward Martina Hingis (after she made comments about Amelie Mauresmo being "half a man"), and toward Serena at the French Open (in a controversial match against Justine Henin in 2003). Most recently, fans expressed their displeasure toward Victoria Azarenka after she took a longer than usual bathroom break at an inopportune moment during her U.S. Open match against Sloane Stephens.

In 2001, several things struck me as I watched the Women's Singles Final at Indian Wells. One was that "no one did anything." When Serena's autobiography, On the line (Williams & Paisner, 2009), came out, I was particularly moved by her chapter on "The fiery darts of Indian Wells." In it Serena wrote that, "Some tournament official could have gotten on the loudspeaker and explained to the fans that Venus had been legitimately hurt, that I had nothing to do with her withdrawal, that every effort had been made to cancel that semifinal match in a more timely manner. Some effort could have been made to quiet the crowd. But no one did anything" (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 81). Like Serena, I too was astonished to watch the match and observe that no one did anything!

Another thing that I learned as I read the chapter was that Venus had told the trainer earlier in the day that she was injured and would not be able to play. So why was an announcement not made until four minutes before the match was to begin? At the time, it appeared that Venus was solely responsible for the late withdrawal. To this day, I wonder why the tournament director and/or trainer never acknowledged their complicity in what happened.

In the aftermath of the 2001 Indian Wells final, Richard Williams reported that he heard "racial epithets" and that someone even yelled that he was lucky it was not 1975 or "he would skin him alive" (Smith, 2001, para. 29). Venus heard it. Other fans reported hearing the boos and racist epithets. And yet, Tournament Director Charlie Pasarell's response was simply to say, "If Richard says he heard racist epithets, maybe he did... but I know that's not Indian Wells people." Really? What does that mean? Why was it so important to establish that if there was a racist response from the crowd, it wasn't "Indian Wells' people." It was still racism! Was Pasarell only responsible if Indian Wells' people were yelling epithets?

Since 2001, the Williams sisters have (understandably) not returned to Indian Wells, a decision that I fully support. Yahoo! Sports' Merlisa Lawrence Corbett (2013) writes that the 12-year boycott taints Indian Wells tournament - which is not to suggest that the Williams sisters are to blame, but that Charlie Pasarell never stood against "overt racism." Of the three most recent articles I have mentioned in this entry, Corbett and Newman believe they should continue their boycott, while Jenkins believes that it is time for the Williams sisters to return to Indian Wells. I strongly agree with Corbett and Newman. What do you think?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Super “Golden” Saturday for 30-somethings

Women's Singles Medalists (L-R): Victoria Azarenka (Bronze), Serena Williams (Gold), and Maria Sharapova (Silver)

Men's Doubles Medalists (L-R): Benneteau/Gasquet (Bronze), Bryan Brothers (Gold), Llodra/Tsonga (Silver
On Saturday, August 4, 30-year-old Serena Williams captured the gold medal in Women’s Singles with a dominating win over Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1. Later, the 34-year-old Bryan brothers prevailed in a closely contested match (7-5, 6-4) to win gold in Men’s Doubles over the French team of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. On Sunday, August 5, Venus and Serena Williams added another gold medal in Women’s doubles by defeating the Czech Republic team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.

According to Steven Tignor, the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers have kept American tennis relevant. In the past few years, U.S. sportswriters have registered concerns about who would be the ‘next’ great American tennis stars. At the 2009 U.S. Open, 17-year old Melanie Oudin raised hopes by advancing to the quarterfinals. While some thought she could become the next “American sweetheart,” her results and ranking have dropped considerably (she was #109 on the WTA Tour as of August 10, 2012). In the men’s game, several promising players (including Mardy Fish and John Isner) have risen to top 10 rankings, but neither has broken through to capture a Grand Slam. Thus, it was left to the 30-somethings to anchor the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

With Olympic tennis scheduled to play at Wimbledon in 2012, tickets to tennis were a hot item. Although the Olympics were last held in London in 1948, those were the ‘austerity’ games and did not feature tennis. Not since 1908 was Olympic tennis played at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. Recognizing that this would be an auspicious event, the world’s best players planned their schedules accordingly so they could be there. So did I! Although I was unable to obtain them through normal channels, I was able to land tickets through ebay for three days: Monday, July 30 & Tuesday, 31 (2nd round matches) as well as Saturday, August 4 (gold medal finals in Women’s Singles and Men’s Doubles). Below, I provide highlights and a few pictures from some of the matches I got to see.

On Monday, July 30, I saw Venus Williams’ first round singles against Italy’s Sara Errani (above). The match was played on Court 2, which has been referred to as the ‘graveyard court’ because of many upsets that occurred on it. Unlike Centre Court and Court 1, Court 2 did not have assigned seats, so fans were able to move closer to the action. Conditions could not have been better for tennis (playing or viewing) with temperatures in the low 70s, blue skies and a light breeze. Could this be the same Wimbledon that so frequently featured rain delays?

Fans greeted Venus warmly when she entered the court, no doubt a tribute to her being the holder of five Wimbledon titles, but perhaps also in recognition that this could be her last appearance as an Olympian (since then, Venus has said she believes she and Serena could win a fourth Olympic Doubles gold at Rio in 2016). In the past year, Venus announced that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s, an autoimmune disease that leaves those who have it feeling tired and drained. Venus had battled through the disease but her results had been inconsistent. So it was difficult to know what to expect from her play. Nonetheless, it was clear from the beginning that the elder Williams was in top form. In the first game, she hit three aces and a service winner to take a 1-0 lead. Behind a strong serve, Venus also hit multiple baseline shots for winners. Overall, rallies did not last long enough for Errani to gain a foothold in the match and Venus prevailed 6-3, 6-2 to move on to the next round. 

On Tuesday, July 31, Venus (above left) played her second round singles on Centre court, where she faced the Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak (above right). Williams picked up where she left off against Errani, taking the first set 6-1. I had not seen Venus play like this in a long time. Admittedly Wozniak was more erratic than Errani, but Venus' service game and groundstrokes were quite sharp. The second set was a bit closer, but Venus closed it out 6-3 to advance to the third round. In the third round, Venus lost to Germany's Angelique Kerber despite having leads in both sets

In the match that followed Venus Williams' win over Aleksandra Wozniak, Serbia's Novak Djokovic (above) and American Andy Roddick (lower) were slated to play. In what could have been an exciting match-up at another point of their careers, this one did not live up to expectations. Sadly, I have to agree with Greg Couch, who says "it's getting hard to watch Roddick play tennis" these days. Even though men's matches were shorter by virtue of playing best of three, this match took only 54 minutes. The British crowd wasn't entirely disappointed since that brought them closer to the "feature matches" of the day: first up would be Scotland's Andy Murray vs. Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, to be followed by the Women's Singles match-up of England's Laura Robson vs. Russian Maria Sharapova.

When Andy Murray was introduced on Centre Court (above), it was clear who would be the fan favorite. The majority of fans were decked out with anything ranging from tiny British flags to full-size flags that they waved whenever Andy won a point. Like the earlier match between Djokovic and Roddick, Murray dominated throughout, owing largely to erratic play of Neiminen. In the end, Murray prevailed to win 6-2, 6-4, setting up a third round match against the Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.

The last scheduled match on Centre court featured another British favorite, 18-year old Laura Robson, facing the No. 3 seeded woman, Maria Sharapova. Although I had vaguely heard of Robson, I had never seen her play. I was in for a pleasant surprise as she gave Sharapova a more competitive match than she may have wanted. And the crowd was clearly behind Robson. In fact, at one point, I asked my friend from England if the British crowd was more excited about Robson than they were for Andy Murray - I really got that impression. And her play did not disappoint! Even though Robson had only gotten into the Olympic draw as a last-minute substitute, her play proved worthy of the setting as she extended Sharapova to a tie-breaker in the first set. In fact, Robson came close to taking the first set before Sharapova took a 3-0 lead in the second set. Even then, Robson fought back to 3-4 before losing the second set 6-3.

If the tennis on centre court was not enough, there was one more match to see before leaving the historic Wimbledon. A doubles match that had been scheduled much earlier had to be moved back after a long afternoon of rain. However, by the time Sharapova and Robson had finished, the rain had stopped and play was resuming on the outer courts. As a result, we got to see the Williams sisters play the tough German duo of Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki. Originally scheduled to play on court 2, they had been moved to a much smaller court (#12) where seating was scarce and fans had to bunch around the court to catch a glimpse of play. While the Williams sisters dominated play in the first set, winning it 6-2, the second was much closer as it went to 7-5. The win earned the Williams sisters a spot in the Women's doubles quarterfinals.

Thus, ended a perfect day of Olympic tennis - for which I was grateful to be there!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

BBC, Opening Ceremonies, and Ticket Backlash

Britain's Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (R) in 2012 Olympic Men's Cycling.

The BBC has had great coverage of Olympic events. After attending the men's road cycling race on Saturday, July 28, we returned home to watch Olympic coverage on the BBC until midnight. Two aspects of BBC coverage really impressed me. First, the announcers did not yap continually and that was wonderful! Second, there were few if any breaks for commercials. [I discovered later that the reason for an absence of commercials was that people are charged 145 pounds per year for licensing fees. It might well be worth it as I think about it!]. Unlike NBC which may have 7 minutes of coverage followed by 3-5 minutes of commercials, there was no need to flip around the channels since there was constant action shown on BBC. This allowed the announcers to include coverage of a greater variety of sports, while also going into depth about who medalled in events of special interest.

I especially enjoyed watching the coverage of Opening ceremonies in England with my friend from High School, Laura Stewart, now married to a native Londoner, Mark Bradshaw. Their insights gave me a greater appreciation of the meanings of various aspects of the presentation that began with a panorama of the English countryside (which I had just seen on my flight into England the night before), followed by an enactment of changes that occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Of course, the scene with "Mr. Bean" took little explanation and was apparently John McEnroe's favorite part of the Opening ceremonies. Mine was probably the scenario with the Queen, especially since I got to pose for a photograph with her in Wimbledon Village the next day:-)

The fireworks and torch at the end were magnificent. I'm not sure what it would have cost to attend the Opening Ceremonies, but I'm sure it would have been far too expensive for me to afford to have been there. Which brings me to my next point... the (un)availability of tickets.
Tickets were especially difficult to find before coming to the Olympics - which discouraged many from making plans to attend the Olympics. Once here, I thought it might be easier to obtain tickets, only to find that there were few options available even for Londoners. It came as a surprise then to see so many unfilled seats at various venues, especially Wimbledon. Apparently I was not alone in making that observation, because several articles have appeared citing a ticket backlash amongst British fans. I can certainly understand why they were upset. Initially, Sebastian Coe (who was in charge of the organizing committee) explained that many empty seats (on Saturday) may have belonged to sponsors or family members of Olympians. He speculated that perhaps the lateness of the Opening Ceremonies may have accounted for many not showing up for early events. Yet, when huge chunks of empty seats remained open on Sunday, the backlash intensified, as reflected by the above article. Officials have promised to fill the seats in the remaining days. But what is the plan to do that?

Here are some of my suggestions: 1. Why not use seat fillers? At the Academy Awards, seat fillers are used to replace people who leave to use the restroom. In this case, fans who might have to wait in a queue would be more than happy to watch tennis - even at a reduced price - until or if the ticket holder showed up for their seats. And if that person showed up, why not let the seat holder find another seat nearby? A similar system was used at the Australian Open (in tennis) and seemed to work well. 2. One problem with using seat fillers is that those who paid exorbitant rates for tickets might be upset if newbies took nearby seats at a reduced rate. However, what if all tickets were offered at the same price? Again, at the Australian Open, all seats cost the same, so it wouldn't matter if someone seated in the last row got a chance to move down to the first row before allowing those who bought reduced rate tickets to fill in the remaining seats. 3. Wimbledon offers a solution at its grand slam by allowing those with tickets to turn in their stubs after attending so that waiting fans can re-purchase them (again, at a reduced rate) to re-enter and take over seats for remaining matches. The Australian Open had a similar policy and it kept people circulating into the more prestigious seats. 4. Both Wimbledon and the Australian Open also attract swarms of people who buy grounds passes to walk around to various courts. Many of them would more than likely be willing to stand in a queue if they knew they might have a chance to move into more attractive seats - especially on the covered Center Court. When the only court that is covered remains unfilled during rain delays, there should be no excuse for empty seats, especially when there are likely to be literally thousands of people who would be ecstatic to occupy those seats - if only for a brief time. Perhaps we need an "Occupy the Olympics" Movement here!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Say it ain't so, Muffet!"

I missed the press conference after Baylor's big win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Championship Basketball game. But it did not take long for me to hear about this 8-second clip in which ND Coach Muffet McGraw said that Brittney Griner was like a "guy playing with women." Afterwards, Christine Brennan tweeted that she "Just asked coach Kim Mulkey about McGraw 'guy playing w/women" quote. She strongly said she also takes it as a compliment."

Coach Mulkey may have taken it as a compliment after winning the national championship, but according to an article on ESPN, she has been irked by taunts, insults, and criticisms of Griner that have been posted on social media for weeks. Many of those posts on message boards suggest that because Brittney dunks, she must be a man. Ironically, one of the biggest criticisms of women's basketball is that women don't dunk, so it's not as exciting to watch. Despite Griner's ability to dunk, Coach Mulkey has acknowledged her reluctance to do so because of all the criticism she has received.

Criticisms that have been made about Brittney Griner illustrate what Mike Messner (1988) meant when he wrote it was "a double-edged sword" to say that a woman plays like a man. Messner explained that on the surface it may be "a compliment to an individual woman's skills, but it also suggests that since she is so good, she must not be a true woman after all" (p. 205). In many of the comments that I have observed on social media I have noticed that people suggest - in not so flattering terms - that if Brittney can dunk, then maybe she is "really a man."

I began to notice such commentary when Baylor played in the first round of the NCAA tournament at BGSU. I was thrilled to see her play, and excited to see her dunk in practice (below)!

Later, it was fun to see her first two dunks of the season in Baylor's second round game against Florida! As exciting as it was to see, I was troubled to read the insensitive remarks that flooded social media and even some of the blogs that students were writing in my classes. If I don't want to be bothered by the comments on social media, I could just do what Brittney does - according to the ESPN article - and that is to ignore it. But as an educator, I feel that I need to take this opportunity to educate. That task becomes more difficult when someone who coaches a team in the NCAA National Championships makes the kind of comment that fuels further disrespectful commentary. I have to agree with another Twitter post that Christine Brennan wrote that said: "Even though and Mulkey are taking the high road re: McGraw comment, why in the world did she say it that way?"

I wonder the same thing!