Tennis ready for openly gay male player
A few years ago, two brothers who happen to be fans of Bob and Mike Bryan attended the ATP event in Los Angeles. And they timed it so they got to watch the Bryan brothers play. As they sat watching the doubles match, one brother suggested to the other that they try to get the Bryans' attention.
"Hey, Mike!" one yelled.
"Bob, over here!" the other brother yelled some time later.
No response. The twins were too focused on the match.
At the changeover, they continued to try to get the Bryans to look up notice them. Again, no luck.
At another changeover sometime later, one brother had an idea.
"Hey, Bob and Mike," he said firmly. "You're not even the best twins who went to Stanford!"
Huh? Bob and Mike looked each other and then, finally, turned around.
They scanned the crowd to lock eyes with these good-natured hecklers, a pair of brothers who also happen to be twins.
It was Jason and Jarron Collins.
True story: As the news of Jason Collins' coming out hit the airwaves, I was in the midst of writing a question to you about the curious silence of tennis players on the issue of marriage equality (compared to athletes in other sports). Then it happened. And I had to scrap the question. I'm very heartened by the outpouring of support from current and former pros (Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Martina Navratilova and Rennae Stubbs at the top of the list). But now I wonder: Where are the other pros on this? I hate to equate religiosity with bigotry, but when some pros show such outward piety (signs of the cross, honors from religious figures) and then are silent on LGBT issues, should we take their silence as disapproval muted by the need to be politically correct?
-- Joseph B., New York
• We had a few questions along these lines. As so long as Jason Collins is still being discussed and celebrated, let's impute to tennis.
Several years ago -- which feels like 1950 in the dog years of sexuality tolerance -- we discussed this. I asserted that tennis was prepared for the inevitability of an "out" athlete. First, this is clearly code for "male." More than a few female players have come out of the closet, both during and after their careers. When Amelie Mauresmo came out in 1999, it was a story for a week, fueled by some unfortunate remarks from an 18-year-old Martina Hingis. For the duration of Mauresmo's career, it was a non-factor to the majority of the public. Sponsors didn't run away. She wasn't mistreated by fans or the media (quite the contrary, I would argue). Even the players betraying "outward piety" were, at a minimum, tolerant.
Compare WNBA No. 1 pick Brittney Griner's announcement with Jason Collins' and it's clear there's a difference between an openly gay female and male athlete. But, here, too, tennis is ready. For one, as Navratilova noted in her essay for Sports Illustrated, the dynamic is different from that of a team sport. There are no homophobic coaches who can bench you or "locker-room chemistry" to consider. It's an individual sport and a meritocracy, so even if you're reviled, it has little bearing on your results. And we should point out that there have been out players already, if not ATP pros.
I think Joseph shortchanges the players and reads too much into any perceived silence. There's a real diversity on Planet Tennis. Playing all over the world, against opponents of all different backgrounds, can't help but open your mind. Where are the players, though? For one, they're often outside the United States where sexuality and marriage equality might not be a hot-button issue. Also, they're seldom asked about these things. On a few occasions, players have shown where they stand (Laura Robson's decision to wear a rainbow-colored hairband at the Australian Open in elegant opposition to Margaret Court springs to mind.) Other times, we can infer. Do you really think players who play in the Elton John exhibition, revere Martina and Billie Jean King and befriend rock stars who have admitted to having same-sex relationships are going to be homophobic?
Leaving aside the dubious tie-in with religion -- 1. Equating religious piety with bigotry could be considered, like, almost ironic. 2. I think of the tennis caravan as veering toward secular -- are there those in tennis with an opposition to homosexuality? Sure. Just as there are players who are doping, allergic to nuts and afraid of spiders. It's a diverse workforce. But I think most players wouldn't care. Most fans wouldn't care. Most sponsors would care only in that the athlete would likely be more attractive as an endorser. (Don't believe me? Ask Jason Collins' agent what his week has been like.)
We'll see if Monday's announcement from Collins catalyzes other athletes to come out. Inasmuch as there are ATP players considering "pulling a Collins," I suspect that they would find the climate quite pleasant.
Just read a comment regarding Venus and Serena Williams that they only play Fed Cup when they are compensated. Is this true? Are Venus and Serena actually paid to play Fed Cup?
-- Linda San Antonio
• They are paid. As are players from most countries. And Davis Cup participants as well. They sell tickets and concessions and, in some cases, TV rights and sponsorships. Why shouldn't the players share in the revenue?
The real undercarriage: The ITF mandates Davis Cup and Fed Cup participation/availability as a precondition to Olympic eligibility. For the Williams sisters, this isn't about money. (In truth, they could make more money -- by an order of magnitude -- playing an exhibition that week.) It's about staying eligible for the 2016 Rio Games.
What do you make of the WTA players who turn their backs to the court before serving and fix imaginary problems with their racket strings? Isn't that as good as broadcasting to your opponent that you're insecure and mentally weak? And if you call for on-court coaching and get told by your coach "to stop whining," that ought to give a lot of confidence to your opponent, no?
-- Agatha Taylor Los Angeles
• I've never seen that. I guess maybe they had their back turned to me. (Ka-ching!)
I don't know, couldn't the message just as easily be interpreted the other way? I don't want to call out anyone by name. But when a player -- let's call her, well, say, M. Sharapova ... no, wait, that's too obvious; how about Maria S.? -- stands with her back to the net and stares at the strings, is the message she is projecting not: "I am a supreme being, with an endorsement portfolio to support that contention. You are not worthy of my attention. In fact, I don't even want you to glimpse my beauty and behold my general awesomeness. You are irrelevant to me, so much so that I resist turning in your direction to acknowledge that we are occupying the same playing surface. No, I will stare into my racket strings as intently as I stare in the mirror, while I decide precisely how I am going to humiliate you like a Maryland Delta Gamma pledge on the ensuing point. Oh, and please buy my overpriced confections. They make a great Mother's Day gift!"
It was sad irony that Ivo Karlovic was diagnosed with viral meningitis just as I was going to drop you an email asking about all of the tennis players dealing with the effects of mono. It seems that besides the glamour of traveling all over the world, there is the susceptibility to exposure to all kinds of things. I'm still hoping that Robin Soderling's career is not shelved because of it and now Christina McHale and Heather Watson are dealing with it. Here's hoping they all get well as soon as possible and come back to their respective tours.
-- Mike, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
• I'm telling you, this issue hasn't gotten nearly enough attention. We all -- well, most of us, anyway -- recognize the physical toll of playing on hard courts. But what about the physical toll of flying 100,000 miles in a year?
Please, please, please tell me that your line, "For me, the [backhand] offerings of Carla Suarez Navarro bring the boys to the yard" from last week's Mailbag is straight out of Kelis' Milkshake and that the song resides on one of your play lists. Definitely moves you a few pegs in my book. Not going to say if it's up or down ...
-- Adithya Rao, Atlanta
But this tweet from author Gary Shteyngart (whom I strongly encourage you to follow) marks one of the best laughs of the year for me so far: "My hegemonic discourse brings all the boys to the yard."
I've been listening to a CD titled Turtle in the Sun by a guitarist named Agustin Amigo that includes a track called Vamos Rafa! Can you think of any other songs inspired by tennis players?
-- Roger Jones, Waterbury Center, Vt.
• The obvious answer is Elton John's homage to Billie Jean King, Philadelphia Freedom. There's also Hugh Laurie on Steffi Graf. And if you're into the sampling of grunting, there's Lil Wayne with Elena Dementieva (strong language in this clip) and Redfoo with Victoria Azarenka.
No, sir! Banning a privilege doesn't bestow any freedom on players, as you suggested in advocating for banning on-court coaching in the WTA. That's like saying that firing Mendoza from his construction job will free him from manual labor to focus on college! Look on the bright side: The on-court coaching rule separates the self-reliant from the mentally weak! Mendoza was not fooled by your trickery with words.
-- Juan Mendoza San Jose, Calif.
• We'll say it again: The third person + LOL content greatly enhances your chances of getting mail published.
Based on your fake logic, people receive more freedoms when they're stripped of their rights via bans. You should have been a politician -- you could've been a cheerleader for Napoleon Bloomberg's soda ban, which also confers more freedom on people because it frees them from the burden of junk calories!!
-- Patricia Healey Berkeley, Calif.
• Nanny Carillo and Napoleon Bloomberg. I think we have a doubles team for the celebrity pro-am.
• In case you missed it earlier, Navratilova weighs in on Jason Collins.
• And here's my piece on how Navratilova laid the groundwork for Collins.
• Bruce Jenkins on the Monica Seles stabbing incident, which happened 20 years ago.
• Sending get-well-soon vibes to tennis writer Ubaldo Scanagatta.