Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tennis History Is Made! Shhhhhhhhh!

Tennis player Amelie Mauresmo won her second Grand Slam and first untainted victory today at Wimbledon. (Her victory in the Australian this year was muted by her opponent's withdrawal.) Mauresmo became the first French woman to win Wimbledon since 1925. Even more significantly, she is only the second player -- male or female -- in tennis history to win a Slam as an openly gay person. Not that you'd know it watching the coverage on NBC. Never mind that it was an historic accomplishment. Never mind it was only the second time IN HISTORY that it had been done. Never mind that it was an extreme rarity in ANY sport, not just tennis. The player at the summit was out and it wasn't mentioned once during the entire match. Not once. We don't even know who was in Mauresmo's box, watching her compete, except for her coach. Were her parents there? Was that her sister or her girlfriend she gave a chaste hug to after winning? We don't know. Her opponent Justine Henine-Hardenne had her husband singled out several times. In fact, every player in a finals has their husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend, mother or father mentioned on camera. If they're not there, we're told where they are and why. But for Mauresmo, not a word. She was alone. She's been alone since she came out. Mocked and publicly belittled by other players, abandoned by sponsors, Mauresmo has quietly continued her quest for Grand Slam victory in the last four years. The rap on Mauresmo is that she has a fragile mental game and chokes on the big matches. She herself has said how difficult it is to compete in France where the desire for her to win is so tremendous. At 27 years old, she was very much in danger of never winning a Slam, which would have made her coming out slightly less notable. This year, she's won two Slams, cementing her name in history as a top player. "I don't want anyone to talk about my nerves anymore," she joked after the match. How about mentioning the fact that she was strong enough to come out, take the abuse quietly and with dignity and go about improving her game to the point where she could become a champion? In discussing the pressure on her, how come the pressure of being openly gay is never mentioned -- both the positive pressure of another community (after the French) rooting for you and desperate for you to win and the negative pressure of all the bigots who found her being open distasteful and hoped she would lose just because of who she was? Have her parents supported her or abandoned her since Mauresmo came out? If that's why they stayed away (assuming they stayed away), shouldn't we know that? Whether or not Mauresmo chose to discuss it, as journalists covering the event it should be talked about -- it certainly plays into her mental game. Is she a vocal champion of gay rights? Does she mention her partner (if any)? No. Perhaps that will come after her career is over. Now her main focus is on tennis. And she took the one crucial step that matters. She came out. After that, it becomes a matter of public record, thanks to Mauresmo's brave stance. If she were the first black woman or the first Algerian, say, to win a Grand Slam, it would be mentioned ad nauseum. But because she's gay, it's considered embarrassing or "private." Who she's dating may be private and if Mauresmo doesn't want to talk about her private life, that's her business. But the simple fact that she's gay? That's a simple fact. Not mentioning it is bad journalism. Period. And NBC, ESPN, the New York Times, the Associated Press and everyone who covers this victory but fails to mention the historic fact of her accomplishment in the light of being out is complicit in trying to keep gay people invisible and cheapens what Mauresmo has done.

P.S. The Bryan Brothers won the Men's Doubles -- a triumph capping their seventh straight Grand Slam finals appearance and a win that gives them victories in all four Slams. They're great, giving a well-needed boost to doubles tennis. Of course, the TV announcers repeatedly talked about their being brothers and the other siblings who have triumphed at an elite level in doubles and the various records the Bryan Brothers have matched and broken with their feat. It was the most natural thing in the world to talk about, of course.


Roy said...

Race and sexuality are not on the same field, its ignorance to compare the two. Being gay has never been cooler, the media loves it.

I agree that some dumb people yell at them and say mean things, which is also complete ignorance. I am sure she has caught flack in her time, but someone who wins something and is praised for being gay is yet another form of discrimination.

Why can't she just be a "good person"?

Michael in New York said...

Well, thanks for thinking Mauresmo's sexuality is no big deal and that other people are stupid for attacking her. I wish more people had your attitude. But the discrimination would not be in pointing out Mauresmo's partner if her partner was in attendance. The discrimination is in IGNORING her partner and finding it too distasteful or embarrassing to mention. That's exactly what they did. Her opponent Justine Henin-Hardenne is Belgian, coming from a country of some 10 million people. Every Slam she wins is noteworthy. She has faced her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters in finals -- making them all-Belgian finals, the first in the history of ANY international sport. Is it "discriminatory" to mention this? No, in fact it would be bizarre NOT to mention it. There is nothing praiseworthy or noble about Mauresmo being gay (though there is much that is noble about being one of the few professional athletes in history to be out). But ignoring that fact is rude and obnoxious. If one player is from Russia, it gets mentioned. If another player is diabetic, it gets mentioned. When Mauresmo has the courage to be open, it gets ignored. That's the discrimination. Maybe Mauresmo can just be a "good person" when she has the same basic civil rights as other French people. Having just watched two states rule I don't deserve the same basic civil rights as other tax-paying, God-fearing citizens, I don't feel we're quite there yet. And when we are, mentioning the fact that someone is from Italy or has one leg or is albino or is from Belgium or is gay won't be discriminatory, it will just be the most natural thing in the world.

Michael in New York said...

Oh and race and sexuality are not on the same field? What abour race and gender? What about sexuality and gender? We are born with all three traits. None of them can be changed. All of them are the source of ignorance and bigotry. I think they have more in common than you think. Is being gay cool to the media? Yes, in many ways you're right. Gays and lesbians have never been more visible in movies, music, books, tv, politics, etc. But when something historic like Mauresmo's victory occurs (the same week gays are denied the same basic civil rights as other citizens in New York and Georgia) and NBC and the media fails to mention this salient fact, it shows how far we still have to travel.

Michael in New York said...

The youngest player ever. The oldest player ever. The first doubles team of brothers. The first doubles team of sisters. The first husband and wife team to win mixed doubles. The first person from Ghana to win a Slam. The first person from Iceland to win a Slam. The first grandmother to win a Slam. The first Mormon. The first Jew. Etc. There is no end to the identifying characteristics that sportscasters would raise in talking about a Grand Slam victory. Ignoring Maursemo's sexuality as one such factor, when they would happily mention almost any other is discriminatory. By the way, Roy, which Bible do you read? (I looked at your profile.) I'm a King James man myself. But I do love the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Book of Job. And if I can recommend a book, the recent book by Bishop John Shelby Spong ("The Sins of Scripture") is very good.