Friday, November 9, 2007

SOS: State of (Women's) Sports

I had a disturbing realization while reading the New York Times this morning in my living room, Harvey Araton is absolutely right.

For a bit I felt rather embarrassed for the fact that I, as much as the next fan, always love a little scandal in women's sports. Tennis is chalk full of it over the last five years: the women - and girls - of the tour are able to make things dramatic while the tennis may lack in quality.

So does that make me less of a fan? Because I divulge in the cries of bad over-rules, the cat calls, the scandals - do I not respect women in sport as much as I should?

And, along the same lines, is that why women's tennis has been so successful as an international game? Many have argued that women's tennis is the single most popular women's global sport in the world. And while that fact is encouraging, does that popularity stem from the drama that seems to circle the tour with a constant buzz?

Did Big Babe tennis also bring about Cry Baby tennis? Are these pre-Madonnas so wrapped up in their own worlds that they can't see that they're not just playing a game - that they're professional athletes, too?

Maria Sharapova is the latest example of the glitzy girl: smiling for the cameras and keeping her off-court schedule busy while garnering a global fan base. So is the issue with players like Sharapova, who are well-rounded, out-going individuals? Or is it with someone like Justine Henin, who has thrown all of her petite being into being the best tennis player in the world?

Scandals and drama always take a catalyst, and often times that catalyst can be a single individual. So what sort of individual do we - the fans of women's tennis - want in order to fully enjoy the sport we claim to love?

Or, is it even fair for us to demand a certain type of athlete while enjoying so much of what happens after the end of the point? Are we truly "fans" in the purist sense when we smile a little to ourselves when Serena Williams goes bananas on a chair umpire, or Martina Hingis pouts and cries on her mother's shoulder?

My initial reaction is to say that "it all just comes with the territory." But does it? Are we able to be fans of those points - and just the points - without all the thrills and frills that come separate from them?

I want so badly to be a sincere fan, but my insatiable appetite for such drama no doubt wins out sometimes.

Between athlete and fan, there must be a balance. We must be okay with athletes being people - and, especially, women - and that sport comes with something more than just a game.

I just wish the headlines from Madrid were a little bigger this weekend than those out of the Hingis press conference last week. I fear, however, they won't be.

But does that really disappoint me? I'm still unsure...

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