Monday, March 28, 2016

Ranting On...Novak Djokovic and Sexism in Athletics

I really hope all of you enjoyed Lost week this past week-it was a passion project that I've been wanting to do for a number of months, and I'm so glad that it all came together.  If you haven't read any of the articles, please peruse here, as I think you'll like it if you're a devoted or casual fan of the program.  However, for those of you where the phrase "what lies in the shadow of the statue?" means absolutely nothing to you, and want some more Oscars, movie reviews, and politics, the blog is about to be handed back to you.  However, I wanted to first address one of the bigger issues that happened while I was away in another passion area of mine: tennis.

For those who missed the controversies (and no, I'm not talking about the Sharapova failed drug tests, though come on there-someone on her team should have been able to see that issue coming as no other major tennis player failed that drug test), Raymond Moore, the CEO of BNP Paribas Open (more commonly known-amongst tennis fans as Indian Wells), stated in regard to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and the WTA in general, "in my next life when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men.  They don't make any decisions and they are lucky.  They are very, very lucky.  If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport."  Later, during the same tournament, reigning World No. 1 (and the champion of Indian Wells), Novak Djokovic, piggy-backed off of Moore's comments, and while not using the same sort of incendiary language, did indicate that the ATP should push to be making more once again than the WTA due to the men allegedly garnering more spectators to their tournaments.

These sorts of statements are sadly par for the course when it comes to sexism, particularly in the world of athletics, and are quite instantly rebuked.  After all, Djokovic may claim that spectators are coming just to see he and his fellow male athletes coming out to play, but that is pretty easily refuted. The 2015 US Open tournament, which had a matchup between Serena and Venus Williams, sold out faster for the women than for the men.  In 2013 and 2014, the US Open Final garnered better ratings for the women than the men, and in 2005 it was even a wider gap-1 million more people tuned in for Venus Williams' come-from-behind Wimbledon victory over world Number One Lindsay Davenport than they did the same match between Andy Roddick, and Raymond Moore's case-in-point Roger Federer.

Moore's comments are equally rebuffed in such a fashion, particularly in citing Serena Williams, arguably the most famous and beloved tennis star in the United States at this point in time.  My gut says that if you polled 1000 people in Time Square tomorrow you'd find more who had heard of Serena Williams than Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, or if you asked them to name a tennis player, they'd likely have more that name Williams.  She'd certainly outmatch the best current American men's tennis player John Isner in pretty much any name recognition poll.  You could argue Rafa or Roger have more sway in Europe, but for the chairman of an American tournament to be making the vulgar (yes, he meant the crude double entendre as language like that is never used toward straight men) statements against Serena being a big draw to his tournament, well, I suspect he's not only a chauvinist but perhaps bad at bookkeeping.

The reality is that tennis, like very few other sports (gymnastics and figure skating are the only two that come to mind), is one of the rare athletic worlds where women have achieved financial parity with men, at least in terms of championship salaries (it's worth noting women's tennis comes nowhere near men's in terms of endorsement deals, which are far more plentiful for the male side of the fence).    Only rare athletic fields like gymnastics and figure skating (where, it should be noted, women completely dominate the conversation in terms of athletic press and endorsement deals), have equal pay for women and men alike, and by Novak's argument the women should be paid more there, which feels equally wrong.  The reality is that tennis has long been a sport that has celebrated both men and women, and has had women that were just as big of headliners (the likes of Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, and Stefi Graf can go toe-to-toe with the men of their age in terms of headlines), and it's likely that emerging talents such as Simona Halep and Madison Keys will keep that tradition going once the Williams sisters have hung up there rackets.

In short, Novak Djokovic may understand how to win at tennis better than almost any other men's player in the world right now, but he clearly doesn't understand the grand appeal of his sport.  Striving for equality and for equal pay has been a proud tradition of tennis, and its near unparalleled gender-balance in terms of press and celebration is something that should be championed, not derided.

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