I love tennis. Women’s tennis, men’s tennis, singles, doubles, love it! The Australian Open each year is a beacon of hope that winter is finally ending and the summer or sport is soon to follow. But recently, my ears have been assaulted repeatedly by unwanted noise during women’s tennis matches. And I am NOT talking about any noise made by the players! I am talking about the incessant complaining and criticism by the female announcers during women’s matches with regard to players’ grunting.
You see, often, when a person makes a powerful, full-effort athletic move, an exclamation of exertion may be heard. This is true of basketball, volleyball, tennis and virtually any other sport a person happens to enjoy. This is a phenomenon unrestricted by gender boundaries: men do it, women do it, even kids do it. The sporting battle cry is an elemental part of sport. And I must admit, when I dive for a well-placed hit during a volleyball game, I am unashamed of my own exclamations (especially when I get a positive result). But for some [obvious] reason, women in particular are being ridiculed and denigrated for doing what comes naturally for sportsmen everywhere.
Watching Wimbledon this year, I had to endure female tennis announcers making derogatory comments about the female tennis players on court. Statements such as female grunting is damaging the sport, women should tone it down, the women’s grunting is distracting, and other myriad critical comments nearly managed to make me turn the channel. Every women’s match, I find myself more and more offended by this unending tirade of misogyny. I am personally unbothered by the gentlemen’s or the ladies’ grunting. It’s a natural phenomenon, as I explained earlier. But listening to Mary Carillo, Chris Evert and Pam Shriver constantly criticize female players seriously bursts my bubble!
Yes, women grunt during rallies, but so do men. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played for the men’s championship today. Their match was a continuous exchange of grunts. Novak even emits what I describe as a double crescendo grunt that peaks just before and just after his strike. And Rafa’s grunt is just as audible. But not once did I hear the male announcers lob criticism on them for their liberties. Oh, and don’t let me get started on some of yesterday’s players like Andre Agassi! Yet, let a woman like Maria Sharapova or Venus Williams utter the same athletic sounds, and Shriver and friends are all over the television saying they are bad for tennis.
And now there is talk of a ‘ban’ on grunting? How much more ridiculous can we get? Can you imagine what would happen if a ban were raised on grunting during tennis matches? My theoretical scenario begins thus:
During the 2011 off season, the ATP and WTA approved a ban on grunting. With the enforcement of this ban, players can be docked points, removed from a match, fined, and even disqualified for ‘cheating’. Despite strident opposition by players male and female alike, the WTA has announced that the ban will become effective with the start of the first major tournament of the season, the Australian Open. The chief complaint among players in opposition to this ban is the fear that the ban will prevent players from exercising their full potential on court, for fear of consequences imposed for uttering sounds that are involuntary. And top women players fear that the ban will disproportionately affect their professional prospects, and have threatened to file civil legal action against enforcement of the ban.
Spectators and lovers of tennis have expressed similar fear that tennis may lose its competitive edge, post-match penalties will interfere with the sport’s integrity, or that stoppage time for penalties may hamper match progress.
Not to mention, it would be utterly ridiculous!
I believe that this angst for females making any kind of noise emanates from a cultural misogyny so deeply ingrained in all of us that even women don’t realize they are indoctrinated with it. In the nineties, when Monica Seles first made a name for herself, she too was ridiculed by announcers, and nicknamed “Moan-ica.” One would think that 20 years after Monica Seles took Gabriela Sabatini to school, women in sport would be shown a bit more respect. Who decided how women should act? Who decided grunting wasn’t appropriate behavior for women? When did announcers decide how the players should play? Hmmmm, excuse me, but I think that should be the players’ decision. The fifties image of the graceful feminine lady tennis player should be the furthest thing from people’s minds as they watch tennis today. Well behaved women rarely make history. The announcers and spectators need to get over it. If you don’t like the grunting, turn down the sound. Otherwise, shut the hell up already!
Some people make noise when playing sports.
And while I’m at it, commentary surrounding women’s tennis too often descends into the announcers’ perception of the female players’ body and beauty issues rather than discussions about skill or off-season interests. Not once during Nadal’s and Djokovic’s match today did I hear the announcers discuss the players’ weight, clothing, or physical appeal. During Wimbledon I have personally witnessed announcers’ discussion of how frequently a player is photographed and an announcer’s issues with another player’s weight (as if it were any of her business). Seriously, if I wanted to hear about that kind of crap, I’d turn on TMZ. Geez.
I love tennis, but it’s obvious that, just off court, equality is still a long way off.