Saturday, July 5, 2008

American Sports-Mouths Strike Again

Ever notice how many “sportswriters” are busy clogging up the airwaves at ESPN? Of course you did, to watch that channel is to see sportswriters trying to make themselves famous by yelling like blowhards about things they know nothing about. At least when it comes to other sports, they may have a passing idea of what’s going on, but when it comes to tennis, it’s always ignorance on display. Take today’s episode of Idiots on Parade, I mean “Around the Horn.”

The topic was Elena Dementieva’s comments about the Williams family deciding ahead of time which sister would win the Wimbledon final.

This gave Kevin Blackistone the opportunity to get on his high horse by using a tactic beloved by tennis-hating media: the creation of a straw man that he can then knock down with his outrage. Blackistone asserted that no one expected the old Williams sisters to meet in the final and now people were just smearing them. Wait just a damn minute. No one expected the Williams sisters to make it to the final? Not true. I, like many observers, thought it was a virtual certainty that one of the two would meet in the final. They left the uncomfortable clay behind, and Serena has been playing well and is hungry to win Wimbledon again. Venus is the grasscourt player of her generation and the defending champ. But all this matters not to Blackistone, who then got on his high-horse about all of the horrible things the Williams sisters have had to experience over the years. Obviously I already have a well known position on this and it isn’t black and white (literally or figuratively). The Williams family is complex, their place in tennis can’t really be explained by a sound bite.

Just as I was about to call bull on Blackiston, Bill Paschke of the Los Angeles times weighed in from the opposite view. Plaschke’s role was to explain that Venus and Serena did a lot of questionable things, including throwing matches. WHAT?? The throwing matches allegation is
far from proven. Yet here’s an allegedly responsible journalist running his mouth: “The sisters’ 1999 match at the old Lipton was rigged. Anyone who watches tennis knows it. They admitted as much. It’s a reality, it’s happened before. Indian Wells. They’ve thrown matches.” There were strange occurrences involving the Williams sisters. Their commitment to the game has been questioned with good reason. But I don’t want to revisit all that. It’s preposterous and irresponsible to state unequivocally that the Williams sisters throw matches.

Next up, Jay Mariotti from the Chicago Tribune, taking Blackistone’s side, said the Williams sisters were ok despite all the racism they faced from the tennis establishment, and noted that “the father was growing up as well.” Well I agree they are ok and they did weather racism. But I sure as hell don’t agree that Richard Williams has grown up. Not unless you consider these comments, made earlier this year to an Indian newspaper, something a grownup would say:

Tennis is a prejudice game. Well, I'm Black and I'm prejudiced, very prejudiced. I'll be always prejudiced as the White man. The White man hated me all my life and I hate him. That's no secret. I'm not even an American, it just so happens that I was born in America. People are prejudiced in tennis. I don't think Venus or Serena was ever accepted by tennis. They never will be. But if you get some little White no good trasher in America like Tracy Austin or Chris Evert who cannot hit the ball, they will claim this is great.
If Williams wants to call America racist, that’s his opinion and I often agree. But the comments about Austin and Evert were out of line. I didn’t print them at the time for two reasons: they weren’t even worthy of comment, and his daughters have already distanced themselves from dad’s more outlandish comments. I’m sure if I was a right-winger I would have declared that the sisters needed to comment, to “repudiate” their father altogether. But I’m not a right-winger. When Jeremiah Wright was saying similar things and making life difficult for Barck Obama my first thought was “Oh he’s Obama’s Richard Williams.” He doesn’t always believe what he says, you have to take it with a huge grain of salt, he loves attention. Richard Williams, like Wright, is not dumb. He has witnessed things I’m glad I’ll never see. He raised a family in Watts, Los Angeles. He raised two champions and good human beings. They’ve never had a public feud with Williams, but it’s been clear for a long time that he isn’t the omnipresent force he once was, mom Oracene Williams is doing as much if not more coaching, and they don’t need nor want his constant career advice (especially Venus). I just object to hurling epithets at Austin and Evert when neither deserve it.

This whole issue with the Williams sisters always revolves around people who perceive any criticism of them as rooted in race and therefore illigetimate; or simply unfair. The latter group of people are no different than other tennis fans – they take offense at the tiniest criticism of their favorite player.

Now Back to the Four Letter

Plaschke’s idiot comments made Blackistone defensive [because at least Plaschke knew some history] so Blackistone came back with “if you think they’ve cheated then call Congress and have them investigated.”

Then Mariotti had to get in a hit at tennis itself, or something, by pointing out that what he wanted to know was why there weren’t millions of people following in the Williams footsteps, why there were no good young Americans “why haven’t the Williams sisters made that happen.” So a variation on the American sports-mouths’ favorite theme:
why aren’t there more Americans? Inn’t tennis more interesting when there are Americans? How come there aren’t black people playing tennis? How come no one cares about tennis?

You have got to be kidding me. You mean Venus and Serena haven’t cured cancer? Tiger Woods doesn’t have to shoulder the burden of why there are no additional Americans, African-American or otherwise, following in his limping footsteps. All he is responsible for is winning. It’s a shame that the same rules don’t apply to Venus and Serena.

It should go without saying that all of those questions were nonsense. The Williams sisters have inspired millions of people around the globe to play tennis. Their impact on the game in America has been huge. Tennis is a more diverse sport than football and baseball combined. There are more people of color in professional tennis than the sacred cow, golf. Two of the game’s brightest young stars, Jo Tsonga and Gael Monfils, happen to be black. But they’re French, so that doesn’t count, right? Keeping up with the idiocy of these sports-mouths is exhausting. I need a nap.

The odious Woody Page capped off the segment by saying “they fought hard every time they played each other.” This is one of those rare times when I will say Page is right.

Gentlemen, please. Focus on the play inside the lines and if you don’t know what’s going on out there then shut the hell up.

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