Thursday, May 5, 2016

EQUAL PAY OR EQUAL EXPECTATIONS?

Have you ever argued with someone so vociferously, for so long, that you forget what you were originally were arguing about in the first place?

Felled by his own sword, Ray Moore appeared to have cost himself a dream job as CEO of the joint event at Indian Wells, after being forced to resign for his comments concerning the debt of contribution the WTA owe to the biggest names in men's tennis.  In fact, the debt of contribution extends to everywhere else the two competing tours engorge themselves at the same troth.  Now, Ion Tiriac appears to be headed, once more, into the breach, with his recent statement concerning his brainchild, the joint event in Madrid, saying essentially the same thing.

Along the way, Novak Djokovic indelicately chimed in, followed by an effort to raise and carry the flag by Serena Williams, and a twitter spat initiated by Andy Murray, and inconsiderately drawing in Sergiy Stakhovsky, who responded clumsily, in his own defense. 

But for me, the question remains:  what exactly are we talking about anyway?  Did Ray Moore, or Ion Tiriac dispute either the ideal or the desire for equal pay at joint events?  Not by the hairs on their (double)chinny-chin-chins.  In fact both went out of their way to insist that they are in favor of equal pay, which would render the interceding arguments from players on both sides of the aisle, entirely moot.  But somehow the point they're making keeps getting twisted into a debate about equal pay.

The question is not whether men and women should be paid the same:  legally and morally, very few would argue that they shouldn't.  The real question is whether the women are doing their part to draw fans to joint events.  If the television revenues are any indication, the women figure to be less than half the draw of men in general - this includes events that don't overlap like Monte Carlo, Canada and Bercy.  So riddle me this:  if women's tennis is indeed the equal of men's tennis, why does the WTA (or anyone desperately seeking a male chauvinist villain in this debate) accept this disparity?

Because of the soft sexism of low expectations.  

The truth is that nobody - not even the WTA - actually expects women to draw equally to the men.  If they did, and there was room in the blogosphere and elsewhere to discuss this salient point, they'd all be asking the same question as Ray Moore and Ion Tiriac.  So why don't they?  I'm certainly more interested in men's tennis than women's tennis, but that's not because I'm gay (a fact) or sexist (a matter of opinion).  I prefer men's tennis because, for me, the draw to professional tennis has always been the game they play.  There was a time when women played the game in an equally aesthetically appealing way as the men.  I based my serve on Hana Mandlikova, and my volleys on Martina Navratilova.  For a time, I modeled my forehand on Steffi Graf's and to this day, I still emulate Justine Henin's footwork.  

Nothing and nobody since.

One of the problems I have with women's tennis is the paucity of variety - they don't only play they same, they look and sound the same too.  If you close your eyes, can you distinguish between the plaintive wail of Victoria Azarenka or the yawning moan of Maria Sharapova?  If you open your eyes quickly, observe two strokes, and close them again, could you tell which blonde Eastern European was which?  I couldn't.  And this absurd experiment with on court coaching, which is merely an even more absurd extension of the paucity of good coaching in women's tennis, makes the game look worse than the men's.  One baseball capped man after another entreating a pony-tailed malcontent to "play your game", which clearly isn't good enough, only to watch the calumny continue through to its logical conclusion.

This and many more eyesores on the women's game is one of many that I presume contributes to its lagging popularity.  Their year-end championships is a traveling circus with no character and almost no appeal outside of the wonkiest of wonks in the game.  As I write this, I have no idea where it will be held this year, where it was held the year before, or where it's been held since it left Madison Square Garden 20 years ago.  The men's version, on the other hand, has gotten its head out of its ass and planted the event at a venue that lends its gravitas and appeal to the event...and vice versa.  The women have continued to make their event just another date on the calendar, this one without the dead weight of all the players ranked #9 or worse.

And let's not forget the debacle that was the exclusion of Shahar Peer from the women's event in Dubai.  Rather than banding together in their own interest, the women essentially abandoned their colleague, abandoned their cause, ceded the power of what masquerades as a union and hid behind the sponsors.  Only Venus Williams even bothered to mention her name; this after she graciously accepted a 6-figure check that Peer was excluded from pursuing.

Now, lest you think my derision is reserved for the WTA, there may very well be plenty to criticize the ATP tour for...none of the cited issues above...but their own band of bad ideas nonetheless.  Only they have the luxury of hiding behind the enormous popularity, outstanding performances, and generally good marketing and public relations of the 4 horsemen of their (impending) apocalypse.  We won't really know how well the ATP is doing until these guys start losing more often than they don't.  They experimented with round-robins, but quickly realized they didn't need it.  This because if there's a tournament, and anyone of them are in it, it is very likely that one of them will be there at the business end of the event, along with all the kings' men.  Absent this convenient condition (which ironically applies as much to the ATP tour as it does to the joint events), as far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on the ATP.

But I think when someone like Ray Moore or Ion Tiriac calls out the WTA for failing to do their job in making women's tennis the equal of men's, we should stop looking for the sexism in what their saying, but rather look out for the sexism in our reaction to it.  Because if you follow and believe in women's tennis the same as men's, there's absolutely no reason why the women's television revenue should be lower, and their stadiums empty at the joint events unless the player happens to be 6'1 or named Serena.

We can bury our heads in the sand, looking for the chauvinist pig hiding in plain sight.  But one of these days, the men are going to follow the logical extension of their argument that they deserve a bigger cut:  which is in fact, to cut out the middle (wo)man and abandon joint events altogether.  I suspect that if they did so, it wouldn't take long for the women and the tournaments to figure out that they weren't just blowing smoke up their own shorts, but actually making a salient economic point.  But by then, they'll be in the catbird seat, graciously offering (in their view, of course) a more economically equitable split of the revenue and the prize money.

And singing cock-a-doodle-do.
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