I would never describe John McEnroe, the famed tennis player, as charming. In fact, his tendency to argue with umpires and general bad attitude on the court led British and American media alike to describe him as “bratty” and “spoiled.” But McEnroe’s latest remarks, said on a conference call in advance of the U.S. Open, which begins on Monday, go beyond simply putting his foot in his mouth – not only are they sexist, they’re totally absurd.
“I think that it’s asking too much of the women,” McEnroe said. “They shouldn’t be playing as many events as the men. … The women have it better in tennis than in any other sport, thanks to Billie Jean King. But you shouldn’t push them to play more than they’re capable of.
“They should be required to be in less events. There should be less events for the women. It seems it takes an actual meltdown on the court or women quitting the game altogether before they realize there’s a need to change the schedule.”
Tennis officials and commentators were quick to tear apart McEnroe’s remarks, saying that although several female players have sustained injuries recently (Justine Henin, a former number one player, is sitting out the U.S. Open because of an elbow injury at Wimbledon), male players are having the same problems. Juan Martin del Potro, the reigning champion of the men’s U.S. Open, is sitting out the Open this year because of a wrist injury. Rafael Nadal has also had injury issues.
The “meltdown” to which McEnroe was referring may have been Vera Zvonareva’s. After losing in the finals during last year’s Open, she pulled a “Richie Tenenbaum” – sobbing, smashing her racquet against a post, ripping the medical tape off her legs and screaming at the umpire. But anyone who watches tennis knows that dramatic on-court meltdowns are common among male and female players – McEnroe has even been known to have a few.
“The system we have now is a lot more player friendly,” said Kim Clijsters, a former number one ranked player who retired from tennis, had a child, and made a famous comeback last year. “It is easier compared to a few years ago. We choose our own schedule. It’s up to a player’s discipline and professionalism to schedule tournaments. Women’s tennis has become so much more competitive. We work so much more in the gym. We have become fitter, faster, stronger.”
Others have tried to be diplomatic; Stacey Allaster, commissioner of the WTA Tour, said, “He’s an analyst and gives his opinion.” But she continued, saying, “I hope when someone makes comments he’s also looking at the data. Venus [Williams] is 30 and she is very careful with her body because she wants to continue to play.”
Johnette Howard, a writer for ESPN, pointed out that McEnroe has just opened a tennis academy, an institution that he is eager to tout as the place where a great new generation of tennis players will be trained. And yes, it is hard to imagine why, after these comments, any parents would want to send their girls to study with McEnroe.
Despite all of the talk of McEnroe’s expertise, I think these remarks prove that his biases disqualify him from providing worthwhile commentary. After all, as Billie Jean King pointed out, what he said is really just “rubbish.”
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.