Author Archives: Steven Kubitza

Serena Williams: The Return to Indian Wells (Part I)

This post comes from, Bowling Green State University Sport Management Professor and Maxwell Media Watch faculty advisor, Dr. Nancy Spencer.

By Dr. Nancy Spencer

March 2, 2015

On March 13, 2001, I sat in front of my TV, eagerly awaiting the sixth match that Venus and Serena Williams were to play against one another in a professional tennis tournament. The tournament was at Indian Wells, a small affluent desert community in California that was home to many retirees from the entertainment world.

About five minutes before the match was to begin, an ESPN announcer reported that there would be no live match since Venus Williams had ‘just’ defaulted. The announcement was made in front of a packed stadium of angry fans that proceeded to boo loudly. They felt like they had been robbed.

Unlike in team sports, when a superstar fails to play on a given date, the game goes on. LeBron and Kyrie may not have played against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, but the Cleveland Cavaliers still played. There may have been different match-ups, and fans may have been disappointed that they did not get to see Kyrie and LeBron, but they still got to see a meaningful game. When someone defaults in tennis – especially in the semifinals or finals, a substitute can step in to play an exhibition match, but it is not a meaningful match.

Unfortunately, for the Williams sisters, Venus’ default coincided with published reports (albeit in the National Enquirer) that their father, Richard, may have fixed their most recent match-up in the semifinals of the 2000 Wimbledon. Venus won that match and advanced to win her first Wimbledon title. The report (in the National Enquirer) was enough to fuel speculation that perhaps Richard Williams had fixed this match. There has never been proof to substantiate that or any other allegation, even though Venus and Serena Williams have made it clear repeatedly that it was difficult for them to play one another (since they are sisters as well as best friends).

Two days later, Serena met Kim Clijsters in the finals at Indian Wells. She could not have anticipated the boisterous environment she would encounter. Even as she was introduced and again, when her father and Venus entered the stadium, fans booed vociferously.

In response, Richard raised his fist, evoking the symbolism displayed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. Fans continued to boo Serena throughout the match, even when she hit winners and even at the end when she remarkably managed to come from behind to win in three sets. Later, Richard reported that he heard racist comments, including one fan who claimed that he was lucky it wasn’t 1975, or he would ‘skin him alive’ (Smith, 2001, p. 3C). The response from tournament director Charlie Pasarell was that those weren’t Indian Wells fans (Smith, 2001). That seemed a curious statement to make and certainly did not justify the unruly behavior in my book.

My immediate response to watching ‘tennis fans behaving badly’ was that racism in tennis was now visible for the whole world to see – except that this was Indian Wells, not the U.S. Open or Wimbledon, where the whole world would have been watching.

And this was before Twitter and social media would have quickly spread the news. In 2009, Serena’s autobiography was published, containing a chapter on ‘The fiery darts at Indian Wells.’ That was the first I learned Serena’s version of what happened in 2001 (in her own words) (Williams & Paisner, 2009). That was when I discovered that Venus had injured her knee during her quarterfinal match against Elena Dementieva.

On the morning of the semifinal, Venus checked in with the trainer, informing him that she didn’t think she would be able to play. What should have happened at that point was that an announcement of Venus’ withdrawal should have been made and another match should have been scheduled for the Stadium. But it wasn’t – for whatever reason. As a result, when Venus defaulted, it appeared that she made the call at the last minute and fans made the Williams’ sisters the scapegoats.

In her autobiography, Serena details the devastating impact of the fans’ behavior that she and Venus faced at Indian Wells in 2001. Because of that behavior, Venus and Serena determined not to return to Indian Wells since 2001… until this year… Serena is returning to Indian Wells.

Next week: Part II – Serena’s Return: How it Happened/What it Means

Diana Taurasi’s Decision: What It Means For The WNBA

This piece is written by Alexx Klein. She was a journalism major at Indiana U with a sport marketing and management concentration. Currently she serves as the Athletic Communications GA where she is the primary SID for cross country and swim/dive. Previously, she worked as the media relations intern in the IU athletic department, as well as the PR intern for the Washington Mystics. This summer she will further continue her WNBA experience and serve as the PR intern for the Indianapolis Fever. 

By Alexx Klein

February 9, 2015

While it may not have been at the top of the average sports fan’s radar, the Diana Taurasi decision was one that holds significant impact for the future of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). This blog is not meant to criticize or condone the WNBA’s highest-paid player’s decision, but rather to voice my concern for what this means moving forward.

To backtrack, Taurasi recently announced that she would be sitting out the entirety of the 2015 WNBA season to focus on herself, her family and honing her basketball skills. How she will be able to do that is because her Russian team she plays for in the off season offered to pay her more to sit out than she would make playing in the WNBA this season.

Taurasi wrote a letter to the Mercury fans and in it, stated that, “The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down. They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing” (Taurasi, 2015).

It is the culture within the WNBA for athletes to play overseas during the winter because of the short WNBA season (four months). Taurasi’s team is UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, where she is making about $1.5 million, according to a Washington Post article. Her salary with the Phoenix Mercury amounts to just less than $107,000 a year, which is less than the league maximum available.

So what can be done?

ESPN’s Kate Fagan suggested a restructuring of salaries within the league. In the 2014 season, there were about 40 players receiving close to the league max, which breaks down to 3-4 “max” players on each team and if anybody has watched a WNBA game you know that is definitely not the case. Fagan’s article suggests that there should only be 12 players in the league to receive that type of money: one on each team.

If the NBA doesn’t pay Cleanthony Early (a mediocre, at best, player for the Knicks who very few have heard of) the same as Lebron James, then why pay average WNBA players the same as its stars? Yet that’s what the league chooses to do.

She also goes as far to say that the highest paid member of the team should not be the coach, it should be the player, like it is in most other professional leagues. You’d be hard pressed to find a sport where the coach makes over twice the salary as his/her players do.

If Taurasi’s decision to sit sparks other WNBA stars into following her lead, then the league needs to implement a solution sooner than later. Other players have been offered money by their overseas team to sit out the WNBA season, Taurasi is just the first to take the deal.

Without the Taurasi’s, Britney Griner’s, Elena Della Donne’s, Skylar Diggins’ and Maya Moore’s of the league, the WNBA loses a large chunk of its entertainment value and that is where the downward slope would begin. Without fans to consume the product, there is no revenue coming in from ticket sales, apparel or concessions, and with only half of the teams currently turning a profit, the league cannot afford to take such a financial hit. As stated by a Deadspin article, if the players “begin to make decisions based solely on finances, there may not be any players left” (Draper, 2015, para 11).

Is this simply an issue of money or do you think the athletes are actually concerned about their long-term health? Is it right for a coach to be making two or three times more than these star athletes in the league? Do you think the salary reallocation proposed by Kate Fagan is a good solution?

References:

Boren, C. (2015, Feb. 4). Diana Taurasi’s decision to skip this season is sobering message for WNBA. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2015/02/04/diana-taurasis-decision-to-skip-this-season-is-sobering-message-for-wnba/

Draper, K. (2015, Feb. 3). Diana Taurasi’s Russian Team Is Paying Her To Skip The WNBA Season. Dead Spin. Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/diana-taurasis-russian-team-is-paying-her-to-skip-the-w-1683643165

Fagan, K. (2015, Feb. 4). Diana Taurasi’s decision to sit out should spark WNBA salary changes. ESPNW. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/wnba/story/_/id/12272036/diana-taurasi-decision-sit-spark-wnba-salary-changes

Taurasi, D. (2015, Feb. 3). Diana Taurasi’s Open Letter To Phoenix Mercury Fans. Arizona Republic. Retrieved from http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/wnba/mercury/2015/02/03/diana-taurasi-open-letter-to-phoenix-mercury-fans/22808453/

 

The Ongoing Battle of Marshawn Lynch vs. the Media

This piece is written by Alexx Klein. She was a journalism major at Indiana U with a sport marketing and management concentration. Currently she serves as the Athletic Communications GA where she is the primary SID for cross country and swim/dive. Previously, she worked as the media relations intern in the IU athletic department, as well as the PR intern for the Washington Mystics. This summer she will further continue her WNBA experience and serve as the PR intern for the Indianapolis Fever. 

The saga began in last year’s Super Bowl with “I’m just ’bout that action, Boss.”

Then, his blatant disregard for the media, and the NFL’s rules surrounding it, continued through to this season. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been putting on a spectacle with the media all year, which has now carried into the Big Game.

According to an ESPN article, in the 2014-15 season alone, Lynch “had been threatened with a $500,000 fine by the NFL if he skipped media day and has accumulated $131,050 in fines since the start of the regular season for violations of the league’s media policy as well as on-field conduct” (Marshawn Lynch, 2015, para 12).

Likely fearing harsher fines and punishment from the league, Lynch honored (some of) the regulations of the Super Bowl interview sessions and attended. He did, however, wear apparel from his line Beast Mode, which will undoubtedly earn him a decent sized fine.

Lynch got creative this time around, adding some variety to his Super Bowl Media Day press conferences. In his defiant refusal to give the media the information they were looking for, Lynch stuck with the phrase, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” for five straight minutes at Tuesday’s session. Wednesday it was, “you know why I’m here.”

However, it was after Thursday’s Media Day session that it became apparent why he was behaving the way he was, and it’s because he genuinely does not care about the media, or anything they stand for. On Thursday, he gave shoutouts to his hometown, his family, his teammates, his charity and his hat- all things that he is passionate about and that carry great importance to him. At the end of the day, he cares what his family and his teammates think of him, not how the media want to portray him to the sports fans of the world.

As a current member of the media, it is often frustrating when athletes do not allow you to easily do your job. However, taking a step back from my profession, I have come to a conclusion that I never thought I would in a situation like this.

It’s brilliant. And I respect it.

He stood true to what he believed in, and despite criticism from the media around him, never backed down. Washington Redskin’s safety Ryan Clark said it was “the perfect end to what he’s done with the media all season.” He finally let us in to his thoughts, what drives and motivates him, and what his perspective was on all of this.

Before last year’s Super Bowl, a profile on Lynch was done by Michael Silver. This profile explains why Lynch reacts the way he does to the media. He said, “Football’s just always been hella fun to me, not expressing myself in the media. I don’t do it to get attention… I’m not as comfortable, especially at the position I play, making it about me. As a running back, it takes five offensive linemen, a tight end, a fullback and possibly two wide receivers, in order to make my job successful. But when I do interviews, most of the time it’ll come back to me” (Marshawn Lynch’s, 2014, para 36 and 38).

I agree with Clark, Merrill Hodge and all of the other commentators who have praised Lynch for his behavior this week. This is not to say that I condone breaking league rules and policy, but hey, he warned the media early on: he is not interested and does not appreciate the attention. He was upfront and nobody respected his wishes.

On Thursday he told reporters he was here to prepare for the game, now let’s see if preparation pays off.

What are the Issues with “Deflate-Gate?”

This piece is another in our ongoing series of posts written by those in academia. This piece comes from Dr. Nancy E. Spencer, a Professor of Sport Management at Bowling Green State University and the faculty advisor for The Maxwell Media Watch. 

By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer

January 25, 2015

Since there is just a week leading up to the Super Bowl, many issues have been raised related to Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess that “Deflate-Gate” will be one of the main discussions. So what are the issues related to Deflate-gate? Since last week’s playoff games, both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have held (multiple) press conferences in which they were asked to comment on what happened.

Bill Belichick held the first press conference, in which many felt that he threw Tom Brady under the bus. In Tom Brady’s press conference he was “peppered with questions for 45 minutes” (Kim, 2015), as seen in this clip. Brady surprised many by saying that he had not yet been questioned by the NFL. He was asked directly if he was a cheater, to which he replied, “I don’t think so,” adding that this wasn’t about ISIS. What do you think? Were Tom Brady and/or Bill Belichick telling the truth? Whether or not they were telling the truth, someone must have known about the footballs being deflated. So who bears responsibility? And what should be the consequences? And why didn’t someone (like D’Qwell Jackson) say something during the game?

Earlier reports suggested that D’ Qwell Jackson noticed that the football that he intercepted seemed to have less pressure than usual, so why didn’t he (or someone else) report it? Jeff Darlington spoke to Jackson, who said that since that was his first interception in a playoff game, and the pass was thrown by Tom Brady, he wanted to keep the football as a souvenir. Time will tell whether Jackson eventually receives the football as a keepsake. For now, the NFL has confiscated all the footballs in order to examine whether they were purposely deflated.

On Saturday, Bill Belichick held another press conference, saying at the outset that in the past few days, he had dedicated himself to learning more about “bladders, air gauges, stitching, pressure, game day ball preparations,” and so forth (Stone, 2015). He provided this explanation to account for the difference in air pressure: “We all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions. It’s a function of that. So if there’s activity in the ball relative to the rubbing process, I think that explains why when we gave it to the officials and the officials put it at say [12.5 psi], if that’s in fact what they did, that once the ball reached its equilibrium state it probably was closer to [11.5] psi” (Stone, 2015, para. 5). Since I am not schooled in how ‘rubbing a football’ might affect the air pressure, I turned to the “Science Guy” (Bill Nye), who basically said that Belichick “didn’t make any sense” (Schwartz, 2015). I must say that I am more inclined to believe Bill Nye’s assessment than the other Bill guy.

Given that the science of air pressure may not fully explain what happened to produce under-inflated footballs, how do you think this issue should be settled? Should players, teams, and/or coaches be punished? If so, what should be the penalties? Should penalties be applied before the Super Bowl? Will this controversy ultimately put a damper on the Super Bowl? And/or will it affect the outcome?

 

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Sport

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of pieces written by those in academia. In this piece, Dr. Nancy Spencer of Bowling Green State University looks at the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in the world of sport. 

By Dr. Nancy Spencer

January 20, 2015

Each year the sports world honors the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his relationship to sport. This year, several noteworthy commemorations were aired in honor of the civil rights leader. Several days ago, the NBA released “Barrier Breakers,” a 1-minute clip featuring individuals who have broken barriers in the world of professional basketball: from Charley Cooper (the “first Negro” to play in the NBA for the Boston Celtics, in 1950); to Bill Russell, the “First Black Coach” in the NBA; to Violet Palmer, the first woman to become an NBA referee; to Michael Jordan who proclaimed, “Owning Team Dream Come True;” to Jason Collins, who became the first professional athlete in a North American team sport to publicly say, “I am gay.”

On Sunday, ESPN aired a special ‘Outside the Lines’ program focusing on the “Content of Character,” that featured three Union Leaders of major professional sports’ leagues. The title of the program was taken from Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, when he spoke of a day when his children would not be judged on the color of their skin but on the ‘content of their character.’ Jay Harris moderated the panel of three Black Union leaders: Tony Clark (former professional baseball player and recently elected Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association); Michele Roberts (the first woman selected as Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association); and DeMaurice Smith (Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association).

While the successes of individual barrier breakers in the NBA clip are noteworthy and can be linked to messages of Dr. King, the work of Union leaders in the major sports leagues seems even more relevant as reflected by this quote by MLK, Jr: “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.” I was in High School during the civil rights movement and I remember Dr. King not only as a powerful orator, but also as someone who was willing to take a stand – even if it was not popular. This was borne out in the recently released movie, Selma, which documents the efforts of King, along with members of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) to register Black voters in the south. As seen in the movie, the coalition of these groups culminated with a march from Selma to Montgomery.

More recently, professional athletes in the NFL and NBA protested what are believed to be unjust deaths of young Black men. Members of the panel on OTL were asked how they felt when NFL and NBA players demonstrated in the aftermath of events in Ferguson, MO and New York City, NY.

“Hands up don’t shoot:” After a Ferguson, MO court failed to indict the policeman who shot and killed Michael Brown, five St. Louis Rams’ players entered the stadium for their next game holding their hands up in the pose that was used to protest the failure of the Grand Jury to indict. Although the St. Louis Police Union asked the Rams players to apologize, the NFL announced that they would not.

When asked how he felt about the players’ actions, DeMaurice Smith replied that the NFLPA wants players to be socially aware. He pointed out that when players flew to help those who had suffered loss from a tornado that had torn apart a community it was because they were socially aware. Similarly, he suggested that they should be allowed to make statements in response to the events that occurred in Ferguson.

“I can’t breathe:” T-shirts that were worn in protest of the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City reflected the words of Garner before he died. When Michele Roberts was asked how she felt about players wearing the t-shirts after the police officer who had choked Garner was not indicted, she acknowledged that she was very proud of the players for taking a stand.

Perhaps the best way to honor Dr. King on this day is to remember his words: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Mad Man At Courtside

This is part of an ongoing series of guest posts by those in academia and in the professional world of sport. This week’s post is written Dr. Jacquelyn Cuneen, a retired Professor of Sport Management at Bowling Green State University. 

Viewers of the Emmy winning AMC series Mad Men are taken back to the 1960’s in America — an era of stringent social order when all individuals were branded by gender conformity. Even the most unattractive of males were able to swagger as if they were Frank Sinatra and even the brightest of females were expected to sashay as if they were Marilyn Monroe. Sport, of course, was the domain of males. Females were tolerated in certain “gender appropriate” activities (see Eleanor Metheny’s essay on Connotations of Movement in Sport), and women in some of those sports (e.g., golf, tennis, bowling) were starting to establish their place in athletics.

The Olympic Games provided the biggest stages for 1960’s athletes who happened to be female and some of the most visible athletes at both the summer and winter games were women from the former Soviet Bloc countries. The Soviet women were particularly dominant in track and field. They were highly trained, highly fit, very serious, and very muscular. Their appearances prompted the American media, particularly the print media, to focus more on the athletes’ bodies rather than their performances. Amid questions related to doping, chromosome testing, and sexuality, the Soviet athletes were chided for being too masculine. In other words, they were too good to be women. And, the collective Ministers of Sport from the Soviet countries were outraged over these insulting questions and accusations.

Fast-forward to half a century later when some of the best and most popular athletes in the world are skilled, strong, forceful, muscular women and the era of Mad Men is far behind — except perhaps in Russia, the principal country of the old Soviet Bloc. In October 2014, Russian tennis official Shamil Tarpischev appeared on his country’s late-night talk show Evening Urgant and, due either to unbelievable ignorance or a dim-witted attempt at comedy, referred to Venus and Serena Williams as The Williams brothers.

The Williams Brothers! Venus, who can walk a fashion runway to rival any Vogue model. Serena, so dazzling that she can walk on to the CBS Late Show set and render host David Letterman speechless. Brothers? What could prompt a coach to refer to such women as brothers? Could it be that, in his Mad Men mind, they are too good and too powerfully built to be women?

It is appalling that the Williams’ or any females who work to reach the top of their sport must hear such comments from their sports’ insiders. It is particularly disconcerting to hear such denigrating remarks from someone who has worked so closely with skilled women and ought to know their capabilities. A person such as Tarpischev, of all people, should know the success that comes to women who are accountable and committed to their sport and prepare themselves for excellence. He behaves like a mad man.

A final word to Shamil: Watch Mad Men and be happy you live in an era when you have accomplished women to coach. Then, get yourself off the talk show circuit, go back on court, leave social commentary to Gloria Steinem, leave comedy to Chelsea Handler, and start coaching better so some of your Russian players can come up to the Williams standard.

 

What’s So Funny About the “Williams Brothers?”

This is part of an ongoing series of guest posts by those in academia and in the professional world of sport. This week’s post is written by Dr. Nancy Spencer Ph.D, a Sport Management Professor at Bowling Green State University.

On October 13, Shamil Tarpischev, head of the Russian Tennis Federation appeared on a Russian television show (Evening Urgant) with former player Elena Dementieva. During the interview, the host of the show asked Dementieva what it was like to play the Williams’ sisters. Before she could respond, Tarpischev interjected by calling them the ‘Williams’ brothers,’ and describing them as ‘scary.’ Merlisa Lawrence Corbett urged the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to respond to the derogatory comments. Several former players Martina Navratilova and Katrina Adams – both now members of the media – also tweeted their disapproval of Tarpischev’s remarks. Martina even called for the ouster of Tarpischev. By the end of the week, heads of both the USTA and WTA had responded to the derogatory comments.

This is clearly not the first time that sexist comments have been made about world-class female athletes such as Venus and Serena Williams or others. When former Wimbledon winner Amelie Mauresmo emerged on the tennis scene in 1999, WTA players Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis said it was like playing against a man. In 2013, after Marion Bartoli won the Wimbledon Women’s Singles title, BBC announcer John Inverdale made sexist remarks, suggesting she needed to become a great tennis player since she would never be a ‘looker’ (like Maria Sharapova). And when Baylor University star Britney Griner led her team to the 2012 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship over Notre Dame, ND Coach Muffet McGraw said it was like playing against a guy, a statement she meant as a compliment.

In 1988, sport sociologist Mike Messner wrote about the dilemma facing women athletes who become so good that they are said to ‘play like men.’ Messner called it a “double-edged” sword. He explained that on one hand, it appears to be a compliment about an individual woman’s skills (indeed, Tarpischev later claimed that was what he meant). On the other hand, the implication is that because she is so good, perhaps she is not a ‘real woman’ after all.

By the end of last week, Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the WTA announced that Tarpischev would be fined $25,000 (the maximum allowable) and suspended for a year. Allaster also sought to remove Tarpischev from his position as Chairman of the Board for the Kremlin Cup, a position he has held for 18 years. In announcing these sanctions, Allaster said that Tarpischev’s comments were “insulting, demeaning and have absolutely no place in our sport.” She described Venus and Serena Williams as “outstanding human beings, incredible sportswomen, and amazing role models who have done so much to inspire women and girls around the world.”

Meanwhile, Dave Haggerty, the President and CEO of the USTA called on Tarpischev to formally apologize to Venus and Serena. Less than a week after making the initial comments on Russian television, Shamil Tarpischev issued a letter of apology that is now posted on the WTA website. In it, he apologizes for the “insensitive remarks” which he understands “could be construed as discriminatory by the public.”

The USTA and WTA have not always been swift to speak out on behalf of the Williams sisters. When Richard Williams reported that he and his daughters faced racist epithets at Indian Wells in 2001, the tournament director Charlie Pasarell replied that ‘those weren’t Indian Wells people.’ To be fair, that incident occurred before Stacey Allaster or Dave Haggerty were in leadership positions with the WTA and USTA, respectively. In reporting on Serena Williams’ response to Allaster’s fine, the New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg wrote that she “praised the swift and decisive action taken by the WTA.” If Serena can praise the actions of the WTA, that is good enough for me. Hopefully this incident and the swift responses of the WTA and USTA will serve to curb the thoughtless sexist (and racist) comments about female athletes at all levels.