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Frank Deford

Pretty unfair

Don't hate Anna Kournikova because she's beautiful

Posted: Wednesday September 3, 2003 3:01PM; Updated: Wednesday September 3, 2003 5:24PM
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  Anna Kournikova
enlargeAnna, just keep on doing what you do. ... Whatever that may be.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Well, somebody has to do it. Somebody has to stand up for the oppressed, and so it is I who comes now to the defense of Anna Kournikova.

Good heavens, there is no end to the amount of sneering censure that she endures. Among celebrities, only Madonna receives more criticism, and she asks for it, right?

It's almost as if Kournikova has made it a crime to be pretty -- and remember, before Anna suffered some serious injuries she was a really terrific young player, top 10. But all her jealous critics ever do is remind us that Anna's never won a tournament. It's like part of her name. Anna Kournikova, who's never won a tournament, brushed her teeth this morning.

Hey, I know it's not fair that women's looks matter more than men's. But where Kournikova, who's never won a tournament, is penalized, is with this ridiculous assumption that somehow sports is different from the rest of the world. Terrible actresses get good parts because they're prettier than better actresses. Dreadful singers have hit songs because their figures are better than their voices. Nobody raises a stink. But along comes Kournikova, who's never won a tournament -- not to mention this bevy of other good-looking young female tennis players -- and a lot of women (and some men, too) get positively vicious because male spectators want to watch them.

Hey, may we get real? Males enjoy watching pretty girls doing ... anything ... walking, standing still, sitting ... at work, at school, at church -- yes, even there -- so why should we think anything would be different with men and boys in the sports world? But the equality police get all out of sorts when fans linger longer over blondes than backhands. And it's not as if Kournikova, who's never won a tournament, hurts her sport. Billie Jean King said long ago that if men come out to ogle pulchritude in sneakers, they may stay around long enough to eventually like the tennis.

Given that athletics features bodies, for goodness' sake, it's a little much to expect fans not to notice physical appearance. It ain't just the babes, after all. During this year's U.S. Open, the tabloids have been full of hunks -- sultry photos of a shirtless Andy Roddick, a smoldering Robby Ginepri -- with breathless talk of their show-biz romances. Jim Palmer might have been a Hall of Fame pitcher, but he was better known as an underwear dream. Actress Tara Reid, who certainly doesn't lack for male attention, admitted to having such a crush on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that she wrote him a mash note. And, sure, Tiger Woods is a pretty good golfer, but let's be honest: especially compared to his rivals on the golf tour, it doesn't hurt his image that he is one cute guy. If you were trying to make a pinup calendar for the PGA, you couldn't get past April.

The argument against admiring beauty in sports, is based on the premise that because sports are determined by merit, so, too, should popularity be. But other extraneous personal factors have always trumped simple success. We want to know more about the meanest players, and the smartest and the tallest and the shortest, and the mouthiest and the weirdest. Nobody was disturbed when nutsy Dennis Rodman got more publicity than far better players.

Relax, self-appointed arbiters of athletic taste. Relax and admire good-looking athletes, female and male, for being pretty and for playing pretty, both. And Anna, who's never won a tournament, just keep on doing what you do. ... whatever that may be.

Sports Illustrated senior contributing writer Frank Deford is a regular contributor to SI.com and appears each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. He is a longtime correspondent for HBO's Real Sports and his new novel, An American Summer (Sourcebooks Trade), is available at bookstores everywhere.

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