What John McEnroe & Others are Getting so Very Wrong

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If you haven’t heard by now, on Sunday while lauding Serena Williams as the best female tennis player of all time, legendary American player John McEnroe also said that if she had played on men’s circuit she’d probably only be “like 700 in the world.” This of course prompted an outcry from many who took issue with McEnroe creating rankings out of thin air and many who believe Williams’ talents would place her higher than 700. For her part, Williams remained a regal as ever and politely asked McEnroe to keep her name out of his mouth. Despite the clamor, we didn’t get an apology from McEnroe. Instead, he doubled down on his comments and suggested that rather than speculating about how men and women tennis players match up; players should start engaging in more battles of the sexes.

You might recall that in 1973 Bobby Riggs opined that the women’s tennis game was far inferior to the men’s game and that he, at the time a 55-year-old retiree, was still too much for the top women players of the time. These comments led to the famed Battle of the Sexes which pitted Riggs against Margaret Court, Riggs against Billie Jean King and, later in 1992, Jimmy Connors against Martina Navratilova. The matches were entertaining and proved that women produced quality sportsmanship. But the thing is, they never should have happened.

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Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs

Throughout sports history, women have always been compared to men. The comparisons initially and often had their source in men like Riggs who aimed to degrade the efforts of women. Their style of warfare against women was to compare the speed, size and strength of men and women. Because women would undoubtedly average slower times, display smaller frames and exude less strength; women’s sports would always be inferior to men’s (or so their rationale went). Those arguments continue today. Men use the same excuse not to watch women play basketball because the game they produce isn’t as fast as the men’s and doesn’t involve high-flying dunks and other theatrics. Women’s hockey and baseball (for instance) don’t receive support because they’re supposedly men’s games that women just can’t play as well.

Over time, in an effort to defend ourselves and earn equal pay, women have adopted the comparison model too. We fight long and hard to prove the sports product we produce is just as good as the men’s. In fact, the fight for equal pay in tennis, soccer and hockey are prime examples of women arguing that we should be paid equally to men because we we’re just as good. We win just as much (if not more), we bring in just as much (if not more) revenue and we work just as has hard (if not harder) as the men. In women’s basketball we’re constantly trying to prove that the WNBA provides quality basketball just like the men’s game and trying to convince the world not to be turned off by UConn’s dominance.

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But here’s the thing, there is no comparison. Men and women are different. We are different anatomically, physiologically and socially. We’re different for good reasons like procreation, diversity and good old fashioned excitement. These differences lead us to produce and express ourselves differently. Our differences mean that women are going to play sports and be athletic in ways that are different than men. Men will be able to do things women can’t do and women will be able to do things that men can’t do. And you know what, that is ok. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being different. Different doesn’t mean inferior or superior. It just means different.

Rather than appreciating and celebrating that men and women are not the same kind of athletes, men and women place too much energy into comparing apples to oranges. Men and women in sports have shown us greatness in their own rights. Serena Williams is great regardless of how many points she can win off Novak Djokovic. Britney Griner is a master at her craft even if she never dunks against on Russell Westbrook. And there’s nothing anyone can do to take away the legacy that is the US Women’s soccer team. Women play sports with our own form of power, grace, elegance, strength and strategy. How about we celebrate that instead of comparing us to something we’ll never be, men.

Oh, and in case you forgot…Serena is Queen. 😉

Tennis’s Unfair Game: Is Sharapova the New Agassi?

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As many of you know, tennis was rocked by scandal earlier this year after Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium. The problem with this is that as of September 16th 2015, it was approved that meldonium be added to the list of banned substances. Here’s a quick recap of what the substance does:

· Increases oxidation of the blood (to allow for greater cardiovascular training)
· Increases exercise capacity and exercise tolerance
· Improves attentiveness and memory capacity

Now these aren’t all the benefits of this banned drug, but I can tell you from my experience training and competing professionally in tennis that any athlete would go above and beyond for the opportunity to increase their capacity to exercise. This means that an athlete will be able to perform for longer periods of time without tiring. Lets not forget it allows you to push your muscles further than would be allowed naturally. To put it in perspective: It allows her to outlast her opponents, recover faster, and play more tournaments. This also means that it aids in injury recovery and prevention. Rightfully, she was suspended upon testing positive for the substance. Which leads us to the problem today.

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Beyoncé isn’t the only one making lemonade

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Yoncé has the whole world talking about lemonade.  And unless you’ve been completely unplugged from society, you know that’s because of the dramatic release her latest solo album, Lemonade.  The album and its visual compliment take listeners and viewers on a journey that chronicles jealousy, heartbreak, infidelity, anger, forgiveness, redemption and freedom.  While many focused on Beyoncé’s possible revelation that Jay-Z may have cheated and that one of the possible mistresses could’ve been Rachel Roy (not Ray), for me, one of the loudest messages was that of perseverance in spite of.  Throughout Beyoncé’s instant classic there are stories of triumph, the triumph over a broken heart and shattered dreams, the triumph of black women in spite of sexism and racism, the triumph of black people despite systematic violence, the triumph of love despite hate.  How can you not love an album about winning (no matter the odds or the obstacles) about making lemonade out of lemons?! You can’t.  Love it you must.  But y’all didn’t come here for an album review, so that’s not what this is.  What it is is a tribute.  Lemonade inspired me to think about some GladiatHers who took lemons and made lemonade.  So today, in honor of Queen Bey, lemons and women in sports, I give you some of the greatest lemonade makers the world has seen.

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Let’s Pray for Our Haters

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There are many things I’d like to be writing about.  I’d like to write about how No. 7 Washington upset No. 2 Maryland last night or how NFL great Randall Cunningham has a daughter who is absolutely murdering the competition in the high jump.  Instead of writing about those wonderful things, however, I’m pondering yet another response to some baseless, misogynistic comments that mischaracterize women and their role in sports.  This time the comments come from respected people in the tennis community.  When asked about the state of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA (“Indian Wells”) as it related to the WTA, recently resigned tournament co-founder and CEO Raymond Moore stated,

“…in my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, (laughter) because they ride the coattails of the men.  They don’t make any of the 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.  They really have.”

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WHO GOT NEXT??

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If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I’m a Serena Williams fan.  As far as I’m concerned she’s a legit superhero and her superpower is #BlackGirlMagic.  I mean she sprinkles it on absolutely everything she touches.  She’s a gracious champion (a gazillion times over), a philanthropist, an entrepreneur and an unapologetically strong, beautiful woman.  Yes, to me, S Dot is all that and a bag of chips.  But as I sat and watched her come up just a little bit short in this year’s Australian Open, I couldn’t help but think that the end would one day come.  Not the end of Serena, but the end of an era in which she dominates women’s tennis and women’s sports as a whole.  Her legacy will live on foe-eva, but the inevitable fact is that someday, she will retire.  After I picked myself up off the floor from mourning a retirement that has yet to come, I began to realize that after her departure from the game, American women’s tennis (like Serena’s legacy) will live on.  So the obvious next question is, who’s going to carry the torch? In preparation for the day that Serena drops her rackets in that Wilson tennis bag one last time, I decided to introduce you to the future of American tennis: Continue reading

AIN’T NO AMERICAN PHAROAH, BIIIIIHHHHHH!!!

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If you logged on the internet yesterday you probably saw that Sports Illustrated (SI) named Serena Williams the SportsPERSON of the Year for 2015.  I’ll get to why I had to put PERSON in caps in a moment.  First, I have to give many, many kudos to Serena and make sure you know exactly why she is completely deserving of the honor.  This year, her record was 53 and 3, she won 3 out of 4 of the major titles and amassed over $10 million in prize money.  Her record is the equivalent of your favorite NFL team playing 3.5 seasons in one year and only losing 3 times.  Despite injuries and illnesses that could’ve been legitimate reasons to sit some tournaments out, she remained number one in the world (a feat that she’s managed for 3 straight years) and at one point had twice the number points as the number two ranked player.  In short, at the age of 34, a full twenty years after playing her first professional match, Serena rules tennis.   But the Serena train didn’t stop on the tennis court.  Outside of tennis, she’s had one hell of a year too.  She displayed her superhero abilities at lunch one day, she slayed the covers of Vogue and New York magazines, and showed up on a couple of movie screens.  Serena conquered the world in 2015 and we loved watching her do it.  Well most of us, did.

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THE RIVALRY CONTINUES

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Tonight’s the night that Venus and Serena Williams,
for the 27th time, take the court as sisters and opponents.  The 2015 U.S. Open will be the stage for the
continuing rivalry for two of the greatest, most influential athletes the sport
has ever seen.  While it has never been
easy for the extremely close and talented sisters to play against one another,
this 27th meeting might be a bit more difficult and stressful than
their previous meetings.  This time Venus
faces Serena as Serena attempts to make history by becoming the first singles
player, since Steffi Graf in 1988, to win the calendar Grand Slam.  So if Venus (who has been battling illness,
injury, age and rumors of retirement) wins this match she won’t just be making
another semifinal of a major, she’ll be denying (at least for one more year)
her sister the opportunity to accomplish a pretty amazing feat.  While Serena doesn’t think winning the Grand
Slam will define her career, I’m sure she’s not interested in letting her big
sister stop her shine.  Their desire to
win every time they step on the court should ensure that fans get a great show
and that the best player will be represented in the semifinals.  

I certainly can’t wait to watch these two battle
it out on yet another world stage.  In
fact, if you happen to be watching too, hit me up on Twitter (@SportyEsquire​)
during the match and we can chat it up! In the meantime, take a look at a
glimpse of the history of the Venus v. Serena rivalry*.

*Statistics available online at: http://www.wtatennis.com/head2head/player1/9044/player2/9027