This story’s been bothering me a few days. If you don’t know Marion Bartoli, she’s a French tennis player, a 13-year pro I didn’t know much about before she became the surprising winner of this year’s singles Wimbledon title. Here she is.
USA Today described Bartoli thus before the final last weekend: “Quirky is too easy a word to describe the Frenchwoman, who will be playing in her second Wimbledon final on Saturday (she lost her first against Venus Williams in 2007). But sometimes the easy word is the best word. Bartoli looks like Luis Tiant when she serves, bounces around on her feet like Muhammad Ali before a title fight and takes practice cuts like she’s on-deck at the Home Run Derby. She’s had public fallouts with her father/coach, claims to have an IQ higher than Einstein’s and gives interviews that are actually insightful, a rarity in the modern tennis game.”
Can’t beat that. I rooted for her on this description alone. As Grantland says: She is who she is. And hey, she won.
Her victory at Wimbledon is a great story. This year’s tournament saw upset after upset, and allowed an opportunity for Bartoli to play well, win, and have her moment at the top of her sport.
Of course, her moment was spoiled. She was attacked on Twitter for not being pretty enough to win and for not having beaten strong enough opponents to deserve the title. But that’s the twittering classes, from whom we expect nastiness. Not the professionals. They were worse.
Immediately after her victory, as she celebrated with her father, BBC reporter John Inverdale quipped: “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.”
This is a terrible thing to say; even worse coming from a professional sports broadcaster. Completely horrible and wrong; the kind of everyday macho degrading nonsense that imbues too much of sports culture. Perhaps there’s an argument to be made, as this article at Bleacher Report does, that comments like Inverdale’s are to be expected since women’s tennis has encouraged sexiness as a value in the league (this argument fails). But even so, such an argument is no defense for sexist comments directed at an individual player. Bartoli may have won Wimbledon, but hey, she’s no Sharapova, and as we all know, a woman’s value starts with her looks and extends to her capacity to be ogled in FHM.
For his comments Inverdale has been taken to task and has since apologized. Still, Inverdale’s comment created more room in the culture of sports for these kinds of opinions. You can apologize, but you can’t uncreate the ripples you make.
Our paid media and commentators can never succumb to this kind of sexist baseness. Too many individuals in the world are already willing to pour vitriol into the air (some of the things said of Bartoli are unrepeatably disgusting and reprehensible). To have professional sports commentators clearing the cultural and media space for these kinds of sentiments is simply unacceptable. It’s not just the British media and it’s not just tennis. But it’s time to stop.
Bartoli, a classy champ who has likely heard such comments throughout her career, brushed off Inverdale with poise: “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes. And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it.”
Congratulations on seeing your dream come true, Marion.