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Rolier Than Thou 05/13/2009 - 5:09 PM

by Pete Bodo

Afternoon, everyone. Cruising through the comments on my last post (Blow-ing It, below) I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that the term "role model," while sounding nice and relevant in a Sociology 101 kind of way, is freely used to describe a relationship and a degree of influence that don't  really exist. It's hard to question any aspect of an idea as splendid and seemingly, well, necessary as that of the "role model," right?

Mantle And that's just where the problem lies. We want for role models to exist, and we're under a measure of social pressure to embrace idea of role models. Who doesn't want his kid - or everyone's kids - to follow a good example, or emulate the "right" people? But the problem is that kids (and adults) have no real desire, to borrow a familiar phrase, to "be like Mike (Jordan, the NBA superstar)" Nice as such jingles sound, people only want to be like Mike in the most superficial sense (who wouldn't want to be rich and famous as a basketball player rather than, say,  the guy who invented a better rectal thermometer)? The sports marketing folks would certainly like for us to think that they're performing a valuable societal service by creating role models for our youth, but are they really?

Maybe the pro sports establishment is just using this appealing idea that sports can provide this valuable social service to boost its own status in society's eyes - to justify what sports is all about, and how the sports entities do business. After all, there are still benighted folks out there who think that A-Rod (the New York Yankee) is grossly overpaid, compared to a dedicated elementary school teacher in a failed neighborhood, or an enlisted man or woman clinging to a rifle and cowering in a ditch in Afghanistan. That is, there's a certain amount of pressure to make A-Rod (and any other athlete) seem more significant than his job description may suggest.

So the question is: Are star athletes role models in any meaningful way? I decided to get the answer to this question not by trying to interpret what kids today are thinking and doing, but by going back to my own formative years and asking myself, How much influence did Michael Jordan (or Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Monica Seles, or Willie Mays) really have on me, and to what degree can he or she be said to have served as a "model" for me?

The more I thought about this, the more convinced I became that while I was as besotted with sports and as "normal" as anyone,  I never wanted to be, or be like, Mike -  or, in my case, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Jim Brown, or Del Shofner. Those guys were my "heroes," sure. But it was in a very limited if powerful way. Like any kid, I wondered if I could possibly be the next Mickey Mantle, or imagined that one day I would be, but it was a fantasy - even then I knew and at some level understood that I couldn't possibly be the next anyone, because there was only one of everyone. That didn't deter me from fantasizing that I was Mickey Mantle, but that's very different from embracing Mantle as a role model. I also fantasized about dating this or that movie star. Did that make Donna Reed my "role model?"

In fact, as much as I watched and admired those gridiron or basketball heroes (Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, anyone?), as much as I might have imitated the way they swung a bat or shot a jumper, their influence never overflowed the niche in which they were important to me. I'm not sure what I thought when I was offered my first clandestine beer or cigarette, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't, Gee, what would Moose Skowron do if he were in my shoes? Furthermore,Yogi Berra might have put it into my mind to drink my first Yoo-Hoo, but I'm pretty sure that was about the extent of his influence on my life.

So let's try to think of Richard Gasquet in those terms. X-number of kids out there admire or even idolize Gasquet - that's a given. What do they do when he gets suspended for testing positive for cocaine? I'm not sure, but I'm pretty certain they don't rush out to try to get some cocaine. Hail, maybe being busted for using cocaine (if in fact he's guilty) makes Gasquet a cautionary tale who sends a more powerful and valuable message than anything he could as a role model who. . . doesn't do drugs. He doesn't do drugs - so what?  He doesn't write backwards, worship the devil,  bite dogs, jump-kick old ladies or eat worms, either.

I imagine that any youngsters who looked to Gasquet as a paragon did so because of his game and because of the image he projected. If and when he ceases to be out there on the tour, he ceases to be a role model, hero, paragon, example - you name it. Youngsters, if that's who we're really worried about, move on. They don't go astray because a guy they most liked on a tennis court was suspended for using cocaine. Kids are pretty good about that kind of thing, and besides -  the world is choc-a-bloc with stars to whom any kid can hitch his wagon.

At the time I was most impressionable, and most prone to idolize sports stars, I also hadn't the foggiest notion about the real dangers posed by drugs, booze or anything else. When someone died of a drug overdose (Baltimore Colts defensive end Big Daddy Lipscomb), it was just something weird that I didn't quite understand but recognized as something to be sad about simply because dying is a bad thing.  Maybe kid are different today; can they really be that different?

You want to know the truth, I think it's the adults who get most upset by failed role models, because it's the adults who imbue those people with far more powers of influence than they really have. And it's the adults who want to shelter their kids from some grim realities that they'll learn about soon enough, and who fear that a fallen idol will take others down with him. I think that fear is misplaced. Bad decisions are not a communicable disease, they're dormant in everyone to greater or lesser degrees.

I would be surprised if Gasquet influenced anyone in an even remotely meaningful way (beyond adopting a one-handed backhand). Everyone leads a unique life, and everyone is enough of an individualist - sometimes in the most perverse sense of the word - to follow his or her own path, picking and choosing influences and attitudes in a way that, if it isn't exactly random, is at least surprisingly and often delightfully unpredictable. We often choose idols who couldn't be more different from us, or what we're destined to become. Opposites attract, and how is that supposed to translate to any kind of real influence for those who buy into the "role model" meme?

So that's what I got to thinking about, but let's make one of the most awkward transitions of all time and say that if you were looking for a role model today, and you were a girl, Dinara Safina wouldn't be a bad place to start. Seriously, let's stop for a moment to acknowledge that Safina has pulled off something that may represent more of an accomplishment than actually winning a Grand Slam event: she lifted her game right around this time last year, and she's kept it at that high level long enough to make it seem a quirk of fate that she hasn't won a major.

Dinara This is an especially relevant fact to ponder on a day when three of Safina's countrywomen (Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, and Elena Dementieva) lost in Madrid, while Safina once again advanced, She beat Li Na, who went into the match with 13 wins over Top 10 players and a 2-1 edge in matches with Safina. In other words, with all kinds of excuses in place for Safina if she felt like mailing one in, or if she was feeling the pressure of her station.

I'll be the first to admit that I've been as critical as anyone of Safina emerging as the official no. 1 on the WTA Tour, and I still have a problem embracing a no. 1 who hasn't won a Grand Slam event. It doesn't help that I don't much like Safina's game. But let's face it: Safina has taken that mantle of no. 1 and worn it like she deserves it, like she's earned it. And here's something else: given a choice of ways to earn the no. 1 ranking, Safina herself might not have wanted to get it quite the way she did, because of the skepticism it would engender in people like me. But that's how it worked out.

So there's been significant, distracting pressure on Safina these past few weeks to prove that she's a worthy no. 1, and she might have crumbled under it in any number of ways (including just plain trying too hard). But Safina's responded to the call with great character and maturity. Her attitude has really made Jelena Jankovic's defense of her year-end no. 1 ranking look that much more feeble, although I'm open to the idea that Jelena's biggest sin as the new no.1 was training too hard -  that is, wanting too much to be fit to defend her place in the new year. Can you say, "irony?"

Whatever the case, it's pretty clear that the level of play Safina first hit last year in Berlin has become  her default level. Meanwhile, Jankovic must rebuild her game, one split and one insane running get at a time. But this spring probably belongs to Safina. Her standard of play over the past few months is such that she'll have every reason going into a Grand Slam even with all the confidence that consistently winning tournaments can give you. And in the end, even a Grand Slam is just a tournament.


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Posted by Nichole 05/13/2009 at 05:20 PM

1st!

Posted by Nichole 05/13/2009 at 05:21 PM

OH YEAH!! First time ever!!

Posted by Phaura Reinz (a.k.a. Pat frm Philippines) 05/13/2009 at 05:25 PM

second

Posted by Master Ace 05/13/2009 at 05:28 PM

Pete,
I would take it a step farther that she owned the last 2 clay seasons with the only thing missed is a French Open title. Dinara only played Berlin last year before the French Open. I thought that her minor injury(she w/d from Rome) would slow her up but she continue her good play at Roland Garros rallying from a set and a 5-2 deficit to defeat Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva. Speaking of number 1, I do not have any issues of a player getting it if their results are better. Serena does have 2 Slams, a Slam final, and the so called 5th Slam final but what else have she done while Dinara has 2 Slam finals, Slam SF, Olympic silver medal, and 4 titles(3 of them Tier I).

Posted by Samantha Elin 05/13/2009 at 05:30 PM

Great post Pete, I wanted to comment on two things. In no way do I believe that sports figures are role models. These are people we really don't know anything about, except the fact that they are a great player or not. Does that really tell us anything about the kind of person they are, does it tell us about their honesty, how they treat others? I don't think so. Many people thought OJ Simpson was a hero and we all know how that turned out. Justine was my favorite, but I don't want to be like her, the person who I want to be most like is my dad who taught how important good grade and education is. That's my role model, not some tennis player. In regard to Safina, although I have been very critical of someone being world's #1 without having a slam, I have to say I admire the way she handled it. When she first became no 1, she was very humble and said she would do everything to live up to it and even said she didn't feel she deserved it. She also stated how important it was to win a slam. And I agree with Pete that she did make Jankovic's defense of her world's#1 look feeble. You compare Safina's humility in taking over the world's#1 to the arrogance of JJ's, "Yes, I'm the best player in the world." What a difference! Safina handled it with such class, dignity and humility. None of the diva we got from hot mess.

Posted by Corrie (not Carrie or Cory) 05/13/2009 at 05:47 PM

I agree that sports stars should not in general be role models. However, when they stand out as great players, are fair and sporting, and seem nice people who take their responsibilities seriously, then they are very worthy role models.

I'm thinking of Roger here, with his Africa foundation and tsunami effort, but I also just posted on the cc thread about my encounters with that great guy Edberg, who had a large influence for the good, I think, certainly on me.

Also Seles was very inspiring for the way she suffered awful things but managed to deal with it very well in the end.

Posted by Glenn 05/13/2009 at 05:55 PM

Ok, Pete, I'll take the bait and ask you something obvious. Do you really think an athlete like Nadal, who has achieved his No. 1 ranking thanks to attributes such as his work ethic and constant striving for self-improvement (besides his remarkable talent), cannot be considered a role model that transcends tennis?

Posted by Hart 05/13/2009 at 05:56 PM

Hey Pete. Nice post. I agree with a lot of what you said. Nice to see Dinara playing well, too. Perhaps not the ideal circumstances in which to obtain #1 but all she can do is go out and play well--and it seems like that's exactly what she's doing.

In regards to role models, I do think that term is overemphasized (perhaps to unconsiously justify the amount of money and attention spent on some sports stars?). I do think that in certain situations, sports figures can have more of a role model status than other--I feel like I've heard lots of stories about kids with broken families/no money/poor education who used sports figures as aspirational figures (and not just in sports style, but attitude/drive/whathaveyou as well). You know, the "he got out of a similar situation to mine to make millions in the NBA and I want out too." Perhaps this scenario makes the sphere of influence a little stronger. Not to say that this should happen, or is an ideal aspirational goal, but I think some combination of exposure and similiar narrative can make athletes role models for some people more than others.

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Missing FED CUPness!!! . . . SMILEY JJ!!!! :) 05/13/2009 at 05:59 PM

LOVE this post pete...despite the JJ stuff!!!!LOL
i agree that sports people shudnt be viewed as people that we shud live up to be.....i dont plan on being like Roger or Rafa or Masha or JJ (although my forehand apparently looks like hers!!!LOL)..........as i dont know who they are behind closed doors.......however.....i take traits from them that i wud like to hav to make me a better person..........Masha is 100% focused and never gives up....and i wud like to emulate that commitment.......

Dina......i really think is an inspiration to everyone.......(never mind the no.1 stuff, etc,etc (did JJ say that Sam????)........if she performed best over 52 weeks....then she deserves to be no.1)
But what inspires me about her is that she is a tryer......who can say that Dina doesnt try the hardest of any player on court...or doesnt commit........i mean.....she's not the best mover, etc........but she'll never give up on the point until its 100% over!!!LOL........thats what i find inspirational......her hunger to succeed.......because she isnt the most talented tennis player we've ever seen (i think marat is the more natural tennis player)........but she's tried all her life.....and is so hungry to succeed.....and thats what inspires me about Dina.....and why i cud consider her oncourt personality as a sort of "role model"..........she shows that with hard work u can fulfil ur dreams and ambitions........

Posted by beth 05/13/2009 at 06:14 PM

a great topic , Pete
I do see some athletes as role models - case in point - Arthur Ashe or the Williams sisters - but only in that they would inspire other young African americans to take up the game of tennis . Not that they would be behavioral role models ( although I cannot think of any reason to think they would be bad to emulate ) but , just in terms of opening doors and showing possibilities to other people .
I also think in the same way as you that this Gasquet thing could be a cautionary tale - it really is turning into one of those VH1 True Hollywood stories , isn't it ? Boy with immense talent, tortured and pressured into a career he really did not seem to want - reaches epic fail in a Miami disco - now we must wait for the final chapter .

Another person that I always think of in these situations is Magic Johnson . Does anyone remember the day he announced he had AIDS? I do . I remember it vividly . Everyone was so shocked - not Magic - he is too good , too fun , too charasmatic - to have ever been involved in the sordid sexual exploits that lead him to his diagnosis.
But , in making that announcement - I wonder how many young people woke up and thought -" I had better use a condom , look what happened to Magic . "
Just a random thought of mine. I think in that moment of bravery , making that announcement - Magic Johnson might have done a world of good for the young people who idolized him.

Posted by Sporadic Backhand 05/13/2009 at 06:33 PM

Pete,
Thanks for the thoughtful post. This area of 'role models' deserves further exploration. I think you are right in saying that sports stars' successes & failures do not have a direct impact on observers, specifically not on kids, who may just want to get the chance to make that winning shot someday.
On the other hand, it seems undeniable that there is an indirect effect. Every person effects others. Sports stars have a tremendous visibility, which means their actions tend create the topics of conversation for our culture far more than the average person.
We are always watching each other. There is a sense in which a public consciousness develops based on whatever other people have done and are doing that makes certain bad behaviors, if not recommended, at least seem more universal, some times almost inevitable.
Because there seems to be so much of the fantastic and scandalous reported these days, I do hope for role models--I am glad for decent people who, in spite of a warping pressure to think highly of themselves, manage to keep their heads in the glitzy world of professional sports.

Posted by Christine C 05/13/2009 at 06:35 PM

One of your better articles Mr. Bodo. I think we all need to remember that these athletes are humans and not gods.

Posted by Some fool in San Diego. 05/13/2009 at 06:40 PM

I would also like to remind people about the class and humility she(Dinara) showed at the Australian open. First timidly apologizing to the crowd for knocking Dokic(sp?) out, and then showing even more class by acknowledging Serena's landslide win over her without invoking any self pity or belittling Serena's accomplishment. THAT, is a role model for children. Her tennis doesn't suck either come to think of it.

Posted by Ryan 05/13/2009 at 07:01 PM

I'm glad you touched on Safina in this post, Pete. My opinion of her really has changed in the past week or two. It's really easy to dump on her, not being the "true" no. 1 and what not. But once she got the ranking all she did was go out and win her first tournament of the year, and she seems determined as hell to continue to improve. If we're going to throw the "role model" tag on someone, you're right, she's not a bad place to start.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/13/2009 at 07:11 PM

Beth: i just had to post to say i was thinking of magic also as i read pete's piece. all those safe sex condom psa's he did HAD to have had an effect. I agree 'hero' might be better than 'role model' but 'hero' is another label that i think gets tossed around way too freely.

i don't know what to think about gasquet. he's human and had a weak moment. but i do think tennis is fortunate to have some very worthy 'heroes' in federer and nadal and murray and djokovic..and there are many many out there.

And Dinara seems like a sweet girl and it's certainly not her fault how she ended up #1. hope she can hang on to the ranking right through the french open. (she was adorable at the AO. i remember that speech.)

Posted by Cary 05/13/2009 at 07:11 PM

My sentiments exactly.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/13/2009 at 07:17 PM

beth: about magic though, he certainly didn't become a role model on purpose. it was a result of very risky behavior. so is he really a role model?

And it always bothered me that o.j. was aquitted by a mostly black jury who could not see the facts through their adoration of him. but the truth was he was not a champion of his race ever. very few black friends. almost always associated, dated, married whites. he turned his back on his race imo. they should have fed him to the lions.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/13/2009 at 07:20 PM

Pete Great post.

I had said when Safina become no 1 player in the world this could either break her or Make her? To her credit she has taken great strides and is showing that Yes she can play and is a Worthy no 1 player OK she is Slamless at the moment but she is looking good for a great RG this year.Remember too she was the Runner Up last year.

When any person decides in their life to take up any given sport they surely dont think of becoming a Role Model as such.There give it their all to train hard in their sport.

I think fans gice them that title.I know growing up yes I did have my favourites in sport and I suppose in ways I viewed them as roles models.Ok I am a Big Borg fan still am,though he didnt have a clean slate in some ways did he? but hey I still remember him on court to me one of the greats in tennis to play the game.

Fans put their idols in sport up On A Pedestal,sometimes only to see them fall.Guess what they are Human after all? just like us mere mortals.

Richard and his present woes? well maybe a young man that decided to try cocaine for the very first time? yes he did get caught but he has the right to defend his actions.

Are we as fans of sport playing God here? are we ready to burn them at the stake? chop off their heads? or throw stones at them?

At the end of the day they are human and guess what they also make mistakes in their every day ordinary life.

Posted by beth 05/13/2009 at 07:36 PM

Annie - I agree that maybe role model is not the word to use to describe Magic - but he did certainly have an impact , and I hope that most of it , after his startling announcement , was for good
Kind of a don't do what I did -role model

don't get me started on OJ - what an embarassment to the Trojans , he is
but, for the record , I believe his first wife was an african american woman

Posted by Ade 05/13/2009 at 08:08 PM

Good post Pete.

The real "role models" are parents. Kids forget the kind of news that just hit the headlines, concerning R Gasquet. So I agree with most of your points. In my opinion, too portray an athlete as some big "role model" to kids is ridiculous. And even if, most kids don't care. Kids don't take this stuff seriously unless parents are influencing them.

And concerning Dinara. I like her a lot but she seems to have to put so much energy and concentration in her game. I don't see her as a natural talent like her brother for one. She seems like she has to work really hard. Her face shows it on every serve. Pain is what I see.

And that is why I think her number one ranking is no more relevant than Jelena's was when she was number one.

I don't see her winning a grand slam any time soon. Sorry.

Posted by streams 05/13/2009 at 08:15 PM

Pete: re Dinara Safina .. yes yes and yes (not to take anything from Serena's 2 x GS wins in the past year) but in the end what rankings measures is not exactly the same as GS wins. That said, I hope DS can pull out the GS win soon.

Posted by skip1515 05/13/2009 at 08:16 PM

Pete: as thoughtful a commentary as I ever read from you, with a great transition, and one that I agree with wholeheartedly.

Can I do this without a caveat or "but"? Not quite.

I think you're absolutely right that when that first cigarette or beer was offered you your first thought wasn't, "What would Moose Skowron do?" But, faced with an ethical question on the field of athletic competition you might well have asked yourself that question and, given the modus operandi you attributed to your heroes, you would have had an illuminated path to follow.

It's that aspect of their role in young peoples' lives that makes them role models, limited though it may be; in the right circumstances – and admittedly they're more rare than the broad idea of "role model" thats usually bandied about – our youthful admiration of athletes prods us to act one way in competition and maybe, just maybe, carry that behavior over into the rest of our lives.

It's because of that that Safina's a great pick for your comments: what's not to admire about her morphing from talented-but-undisciplined-and-out-of-mental-and-physical-shape tennis pro into a trim fighting machine who publicly admits when she doesn't fight hard enough and gives way to her old demons? Deserves to be #1 without a Big Four tourney on her resumé? Maybe, maybe not. Deserves to be #1 because she's worked for it? Absolutely.

Posted by Samantha Elin 05/13/2009 at 08:25 PM

For those who argue that 2 year suspension is a just sentence. Please consider this, two years is a lifetime to take out of a player's career because of the rapid, changing nature of the game. The game can truly pass you by and you may never get back to where you were. Sesil was a rising star who beat Venus at the FO and now she's being beat by qualifiers on the ITF circuit. She has never been able to get back into the main draw of even the lower tier events, and is largely a forgoten player who once held so much potential. Sesil was 7 years younger than Gasquet so he might be looking at the same dismal fate. The only problem with giving Gasquet a lower sentence which I agree with is what do you say to people like Hingis who got the full 2 year suspension? There are no easy answer that are fair. I wish him the best. Go Caro, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by Sherlock 05/13/2009 at 08:56 PM

Great stuff, Pete. I've got to think about all this. But this line had me laughing for quite some time. :)

"I'm not sure what I thought when I was offered my first clandestine beer or cigarette, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't, Gee, what would Moose Skowron do if he were in my shoes?"

Slow, .250 power hitters just never catch a break. :)

Posted by charles 05/13/2009 at 09:05 PM

Dinara certainly does seem to be trying to live up to her #1 ranking. She is now the bookies favourite at Roland Garros, and she is guaranteed to hold onto top spot at least through RG.

I think this issue of #1 without a GS tournament should really have come to the fore regarding Lindsay Davenport. The year in question was 2004. I'm still not sure who is popularly regarded as #1 for that year. The WTA computer listed Davenport in the top spot at the end of the year. The WTA player of the year award (issued in April of the next year, I believe, and well before she first reached #1 on the computer in Aug 2005) named Sharapova. The ITF selected Myskina (who never reached computer #1). The highest number of average WTA points per tournament played belonged to Henin in 2004. Davenport didn't even make a GS final in 2004. By contrast Dinara has played two GS finals in the past year and is defending 4 titles (3 of them premier events).

Nonetheless, because Davenport had won GS events in the past (last one was 2000), people weren't as up in arms about it as they are with Safina and Jankovic. Several posters here have advocated for clearly regarding that the computer ranking rewards a year's worth of performance and that the correlation between ranking points and GS performance, while strong, is not absolute.

I think it is important to remember that the player with the most potential is not necessarily #1. Sure it's possible that Serena Williams, (or Hantuchova! or Wozniacki!!) might have the best game of any current player on one particular day if they were playing at their absolute best, but being #1 is about realizing your potential. As long as the ranking system is fair and reasonable (that question is, of course, up for debate), the #1 ranking recognizes the actual accomplishments of the last year, not the most talented player. That seems fair to me...

And now for the trivia buffs:
1. Although fans now seem to insist that the woman regarded as #1 for the year have won a Grand Slam title in that year, it used to be common to regard the Wimbledon winner as #1 for the year. In fact since the advent of rankings (about 1919 - these were subjective ranking of "experts") until the open era (1968) there were only five times that a woman won Wimbledon without being regarded as #1 for the year: 1926 - McKane; 1931 - Aussem; 1948, 1949 - Brough; 1962 - Hantze Susman.

2. The first year a woman was regarded as #1 for the year winning only the US (of the four GS events that year), was 1931 - Wills Moody. It also happened in 1948 - Osborne; 1977, 1978 - Evert; 1998 - Davenport; and possibly 2008 - SWilliams (if you accept the WTA player of the year award...)

3. The first year a woman was regarded as #1 for the year winning only Roland Garros (of the four GS events that year), was 1926 - Lenglen. It also happened in 1987 - Graf, and 2006 - Henin.

4. The first year a woman was regarded as #1 for the year winning only the Australian (of the four GS events that year), was 1990 - Graf. It also happened in 1997 - Hingis.
In fact, it wasn't until 1950 that for the first time the woman winning the Australian was regarded as #1 for the year - Brough.

5. Lastly the first and only year in which the popularly regarded #1 for the year didn't win any GS event was 2004 - Davenport (depending, of course, on who you believe was #1 that year...)

I'll stop there...

Posted by Sam 05/13/2009 at 09:05 PM

"I think it's the adults who get most upset by failed role models, because it's the adults who imbue those people with far more powers of influence than they really have."

I agree, Pete. Athletes, like actors and musicians, are similar in that they are basically entertainers. The best ones are very skilled at their respective crafts, but that doesn't necessarily make them qualified to the same degree in any area of life beyond that. There are some athletes that transcend their sports and truly are role models, but I think that they are the exception rather than the norm.

Very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Pete.

Posted by temes 05/13/2009 at 09:06 PM

Athletes are good roles models of hard work, heart, dedication and drive, respect of rules in their chosen profession, and also healthy body. That's about all that should be expected of them imo.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/13/2009 at 09:08 PM

samantha: well said. and FWIW, i don't know who Sesil is. 2 years is indeed a lifetime for a professional athlete. i appear to not be current on the gasquet story. Has he admitted doing coke in a disco in miami? if that's the case he should plead mercy on the court so to speak and hope they are sympathetic. Or is the sentence written in stone?

Posted by Rosangel 05/13/2009 at 09:16 PM

Samantha is talking about Sesil Karantancheva - Pete wrote a post about her last year:
http://tennisworld.typepad.com/tennisworld/2008/08/sesil.html

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/13/2009 at 09:29 PM

thanks for the link Rosangel, i'll check it out.

and beth, thanks for clarifying about o.j. i'd forgotten about his first wife.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/13/2009 at 09:56 PM

Rosangel: that was, indeed, a wonderful article on Sesil. makes me wish she was doing better so i could see her play? Really thoughtful and interesting piece of writing from pete for anyone who missed it. interesting i only recognized about half of the posters from a year ago! And i agree that her 'team' should have been held accountable to some degree. she was only 15!

pete, hope you consider doing more profiles like this one.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/13/2009 at 10:00 PM

Pete I would love you to do a profile on Borg one day too.

Posted by Vie 05/13/2009 at 10:51 PM

What is a role model, but a specific inspiration and example for a trait or accomplishment we'd like to have in our own life. The person providing the model has the trait in abundance and we recognize and admire it.

Posted by Andrew 05/14/2009 at 12:03 AM

Evening, all.

I personally am very nervous about holding up athletes as role models apart from in their natural context - how they play their chosen sport. That can extend (though I don't think it needs to) to how they talk about it. However, I prefer the evidence of their actions on the pitch, or on the court, or on the field.

I'm happy with Nadal and Federer as the leading players in ATP tennis because they are fair competitors on the court. I can't recall any situation where either player has attempted to intimidate or use gamesmanship against an opponent, or has been rude to an official.

I remember with great pleasure Gary Lineker's form as an England soccer player, and the fact that he never got booked in a match. In rugby, Jean-Pierre Rives was a fantastic competitor, hard as nails but never (that I saw) unsporting.

One of the fun things about the last twelve years has been the challenge of being a role model to my own daughter Cathleen. Children learn not by what you say but by what you do, particularly when you don't think someone is looking.

Posted by Isobel 05/14/2009 at 01:48 AM

Have to agree that the terms 'role model' and especially 'hero' get tossed around far too frequently for my liking. That being said, an athlete can be a role model not because of the postion they occupy, but how they act in that position. An athlete can be a role model for how to be humble in victory, gracious in loss, a hard worker, perservering, resilient in heart and fair in dealing with allies and opponents alike. Those are some pretty damn inspiring qualities for a person to aspire to emulate. I look at such people (not just athletes) in possession of those inspiring qualities as examples for how to be a good person and live a good life. Doesn't mean I want to be exactly like a role model or for my kids to be, but looking at how a "role model" deals with adversity graciously can give you insight and inspiration in your own life.

Other thing this piece made me think aobut is...I don't think I hold my "role models" to the inhuman standards of perfection that some do. (And am thus not interested in immediately crucifying them when they fall from some lofty pedestal.) In stories, I prefer heroes with flaws and villains with heroic aspirations because that's how real people are. We have weaknesses, we screw up, we try our best. The way a person deals with the difficult moments in life is far more telling to me than the way they deal with their triumphs. I don't mind a role model who is human enough to make a mistake now and then, as long as she is brave enough to own it and come out wiser on the other side of the experience.

Posted by Nancy J 05/14/2009 at 01:55 AM

Kids have heroes. It's in their nature I think. Mine do. I enjoyed the concept when I was young. So long as they realize that everyone is fallible, and can fall hard when put on an unrealistic pedestal. I had to learn that post teen years, my kids learn it now.

What really makes a true hero is how people deal with and recover from adversity. We can learn a lot about dealing with our own faults from looking at how others deal.

But, as a teen, I believed the PR. I drank the Kool-Aide, and believed the Scholastic Books that sold me (for example that) Chrissie Evert was the perfect girl. Turned out that particular batch of Kool-Aide was a bitter drink at times. Which isn't even fair to her. Did she herself promote herself promote the perfect Catholic girl image? Or was that the PR machine, while she pretty much was always honest about being a girl just trying to find her way (her autobio seems pretty honest that she's not perfect).

Now, I'm waiting for Andre and Steffi (who I also greatly admire of late) to fall from grace. I'm sorta waiting to surf one day to Google news and learn of an affair, a business scandal, an addiction, or something less than the sweet committed family dedicated to philanthropy that they present to the public (check out their BBC interview from this past Monday on Youtube - some call it cheesy -- but I bought it as a nice change of pace -- nice to see two such famous people be humble and not self involved!). Why would be I surprised! Of course they're imperfect, and anyway, it's not my business!

I'm giving up the Kool-Aide! Really, I am. It's a cheap drink full of empty calories and no realistic health benefits!

p.s. I feel sorry for Reeshard! He'll have to take the punishment for bad judgment. But, how he recovers will show what kind of man he is.

Posted by arbiter 05/14/2009 at 01:56 AM

Safina is tall. She moves...not so fast. They pushed up her fitness, and now she is a step quicker, but at the cost of giving her 100% effort. How long can you do 100%? Without injuries, and mental break downs?
For tennis, if you want to last, you have to be light, quick and elastic. Unless you can hit 30% harder than anyone (Serena) and play just half of the season, due to injuries caused by your weight.

So, Dinara will not last long, says pure logic. She can last a season or two...and will always have a problem against a good, fast defender. Or someone who hits even harder...

Posted by Nancy J 05/14/2009 at 02:03 AM

Arbiter wrote:

"and play just half of the season, due to injuries caused by your weight."
-----------------

Is this statement (about Serena) from evidence based medicine? If so, show your source please!

Posted by Vishal 05/14/2009 at 02:06 AM

Vintage Pete!
Great thoughts.... This is the reason people (like me) read you and appreciate you.
- THANKS

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 02:13 AM

Morning, everyone. :)

Fun post, Pete - you've gone all mellow! *surprised, adjusts mental image slightly*

LOL @ the title...thought it was going to be about players getting busted for smoking pot for a second there.

Happily I can't remember enough sociology to ramble about role models in detail...think it might've been Robert Merton who came up with the idea and originally I think it was more about individuals comparing themselves with how people behaved in the social roles that those individuals wanted to be in. Interesting when you think about class and social mobility and stuff as well...Hm, shut up, Jewell. LOL.

What I think of as the newspaper definition of a role model has always struck me as ridiculously simplistic and completely unable to consider the role of choice and decision-making on the part of the individual (which is possibly a problem with the original formulation, too)...so, agree with main part of the post.

Where I think athletes can be significant outside of sport is that they can be inspiring - I suppose, as warrior heroes might've been inspiring in different times. *insert obligatory Wimbledon final mention* You can turn your sporting heroes into myths.

Even then - not sure any of that changes behaviour on the part of the individual, though, in any positive way. (endless rewatching and adoring Wimbledon final DVD is probably not all that helpful to my life, for example.) *shrug*

I don't have children and probably don't want to - one of the reasons being the responsibility of having to be some attempt at a positive role model for them. Eek!

I think Safina gave an interview to the Independent here in which she definitely said it wasn't the ideal way to be #1 and that she would go all out for a Grand Slam.

I don't suppose JJ liked it either...her response was slightly different, reads to me like classic insecurity...and frankly I don't blame her. She's not stupid, she must've known - and I suspect, genuinely felt - the criticism. And it's sadly ironic that all of JJ's efforts to get fitter to enable her to go that one step further have so far been in vain. But it *is* nice to see her get a little credit for it.

Of course, the obligatory bashing came in the comments...sigh. *attempts to grow thicker skin, probably fails*

Anyway, I have faith...JJ for FO 2009!!!

As an aside - I really liked all the USO pieces, Pete, on some relatively uncelebrated woman players, especially the one on Bethanie Mattek. Still haunts me.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 02:14 AM

Morning, everyone. :)

Fun post, Pete - you've gone all mellow! *surprised, adjusts mental image slightly*

LOL @ the title...thought it was going to be about players getting busted for smoking pot for a second there.

Happily I can't remember enough sociology to ramble about role models in detail...think it might've been Robert Merton who came up with the idea and originally I think it was more about individuals comparing themselves with how people behaved in the social roles that those individuals wanted to be in. Interesting when you think about class and social mobility and stuff as well...Hm, shut up, Jewell. LOL.

What I think of as the newspaper definition of a role model has always struck me as ridiculously simplistic and completely unable to consider the role of choice and decision-making on the part of the individual (which is possibly a problem with the original formulation, too)...so, agree with main part of the post.

Where I think athletes can be significant outside of sport is that they can be inspiring - I suppose, as warrior heroes might've been inspiring in different times. *insert obligatory Wimbledon final mention* You can turn your sporting heroes into myths.

Even then - not sure any of that changes behaviour on the part of the individual, though, in any positive way. (endless rewatching and adoring Wimbledon final DVD is probably not all that helpful to my life, for example.) *shrug*

I don't have children and probably don't want to - one of the reasons being the responsibility of having to be some attempt at a positive role model for them. Eek!

I think Safina gave an interview to the Independent here in which she definitely said it wasn't the ideal way to be #1 and that she would go all out for a Grand Slam.

I don't suppose JJ liked it either...her response was slightly different, reads to me like classic insecurity...and frankly I don't blame her. She's not stupid, she must've known - and I suspect, genuinely felt - the criticism. And it's sadly ironic that all of JJ's efforts to get fitter to enable her to go that one step further have so far been in vain. But it *is* nice to see her get a little credit for it.

Of course, the obligatory bashing came in the comments...sigh. *attempts to grow thicker skin, probably fails*

Anyway, I have faith...JJ for FO 2009!!!

As an aside - I really liked all the USO pieces, Pete, on some relatively uncelebrated woman players, especially the one on Bethanie Mattek. Still haunts me.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 02:14 AM

Oh God, sorry for the double...that amount of trivial rambling should not be inflicted on anyone twice over.

Posted by dj 05/14/2009 at 02:23 AM


The kuznetsova
dream
has
ended
so
abruptly.

Posted by dj 05/14/2009 at 02:27 AM


Safina luck
will vaporize
before
the 2nd
week
of Roland Garros

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 03:11 AM

"...but let's make one of the most awkward transitions of all time and say that if you were looking for a role model today, and you were a girl, Dinara Safina wouldn't be a bad place to start."

just remembered reading this while making a cup of tea - why would you have to be a girl to follow Safina? I'd have said that Safina's character virtues as talked about here aren't really gender specific.

Or is it just that it may be easier or seen as more natural for a girl to follow a woman, or a boy to follow a man? I wonder if it's easier too for a girl to find a man as a role model than for a boy to find a woman, and what that maybe says about our society in general.

Posted by Zaki 05/14/2009 at 05:06 AM

Can I just say that I think JJ had bad luck in picking Pat Etcheberry as fitness coach? During his coaching, she added 7 kilograms of body weight, which destroyed her speed and agility and left her without her best weapons (except backhand DTL). I wonder what both Jelena and Pat were thinking.

Posted by Or 05/14/2009 at 06:04 AM

Was there a discussion about Djoko and Rafa's complaint about the ranking (they want it on a two year basis, because it is hard for them to defend their position and have to play lots of tournaments).

I didn't see it discussed, but I didn't review all the pages from the last few days.

I will carefully ask why we didn't hear about it from Rafa before he took over number 1? Easy to say it when are in a position to defend, rather to overtake.

I like the yearly based ranking, what happend a year and a half ago shouldn't count, unless a player is injured.

Posted by Samantha Elin 05/14/2009 at 06:26 AM

Pat Etchelberry was the fitness coach that made Justine so great. I don't think her failures have anything to do with him. If you examine her game the weak serve, the lack of a big weapon that can hurt the top players have nothing to do with the issue of fitness. Some players don't have the game to win a slam and HM/JJ falls into this category. To be fair, she's a great retriever, but that isn't the same has being a great player. Go Caro, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by Samantha Elin 05/14/2009 at 06:30 AM

Further, it's no accident that the last player to win a slam with as weak a serve was Myskina and that was five years ago, a long time in tennis. Don't blame Etchelberry, blame her weak game.

Posted by Zaki 05/14/2009 at 07:42 AM

Samantha, Jelena had stopped being good retriever while Etcheberry was working with her, because she's lost her mobility and that because of extra body weight. Pat is fitness coach, and physical aspect of Jelena's game let her down: she couldn't run down those balls anymore. I think that his style didn't match Jelena's needs. She must be fast and agile to stand any chance against quality opponents, and he's transformed her to something else. Serve and backhand dtl are not for Pat to worry about.

Posted by Sam 05/14/2009 at 09:53 AM

Etcheberry has had a great deal of success working with a few players, most notably Henin earlier this decade and Courier during the early 1990s. I don't know the details of his work with JJ, other than that it added muscle/weight, but I think that Zaki is right that Etcheberry didn't suit JJ's needs.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 09:55 AM

I've never understod this "athlete/entertainer as role model" concept. Even as a pre-teen and teenager, when all my friends had their bedroom walls plastered with posters of their favorite sports heros, I was not given to such idol worshop. They were simply people like me or you, who happened to be very very good at what they did, but whcih in itself did not make them wise or imbue ther character with admirable qualities. They might comport themselves with integrity and grit on the playing field, but those qualities don't necessarily transfer to their daily lives.

Andre Agassi and Muhammid Ali, in their careers and lives and for differnet reasons, have at different times earned an awesome deal of respect from me, as human beings, but still I would not hold them up as ideal role models.

Role models need to be within our reach. They need to interact with us, their lives intersecting with ours in positive ways.

Posted by Sam 05/14/2009 at 09:58 AM

"Role models need to be within our reach. They need to interact with us, their lives intersecting with ours in positive ways."

Well said, Slice-n-Dice.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 10:01 AM

With Sam and Zaki.

and to say Etcheberry did not meet JJ's needs is not to blame him for her "weak game".

But I do think that her trying that particular approach to Slam-winning/game-improving has contributed to this year's slump.

Glad she won today.

Posted by Cata 05/14/2009 at 10:06 AM

you are correct. the idea of role-model is nonsense. people want money and fame and might imitate superficial aspect of their models (haristyle, clothing, or, if they really dig deep, a backhand or a style of writing). unfortunately, the baloney is not limited to sports. you have a great deal of nonsense going on in education under a premise that children need role models (who need to match their sex or color of their skins) in order to learn this or that.

Posted by tina 05/14/2009 at 10:17 AM

For now I'm only popping in to say Mickey Mantle lost me when he 1) drunkenly pinched my ass once in a bar and then 2) far worse, accepted a liver transplant after he likely knew even that wouldn't save him, and such a precious commodity might have saved a life. What kind of "role model" does a thing like that?

I guess Mickey never go over Roger Maris just as Buzz Aldrin never got over Neil Armstrong.

Posted by VE 05/14/2009 at 10:32 AM

Pete,

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been saying this for years.

Posted by Pete 05/14/2009 at 10:38 AM

Glenn - I certainly believe that Nadal is a good "role model" for the reasons you suggest; I just don't think the INFLUENCE of such role models is really very strong, lasting, or predictable. Hey, plenty of kids who are lazy and unmotivated love Nadal, too.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 10:55 AM

The trouble with "role models" is right there in the term itself. It is tempting to consider an athlete's or a fireman's actions and behaviors "in their professional role" as somehow carrying over into their lives and their relationships with the community and with people. This is a fiction. While it may be true for some, that the manner in which they comport themselves "in thir professional role" is admirable may also be manifested in their daily lives, the causal, correspondent relationship we ascribe to this is a fiction.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 11:14 AM

Gosh, tina. I think I'd probably take a liver transplant just on the off-chance, too.

all I know about Mickey Mantle came from Wikipedia. Sad about the alcoholism, horrible awful disease/addiction that it is.

Posted by Vie 05/14/2009 at 11:39 AM

(I got this translation from vamosbrigade.com)

On how another professional (golfer Sergio Garcia) sees Rafa as a role model:

Q: Is it true that you’re close to Rafael Nadal?
Sergio Garcia: Yes, we’re good friends. I go to watch him play whenever I can. I went to the US Open, to Wimbledon and this week, I’m going to Madrid. He likes to play golf as well. We play together sometimes.

Q: He manages quite well?
Garcia: Yes, he’s a good player.

Q: And how is your tennis?
Garcia: Er, I’m not bad…(he laughs)

Q: What do you appreciate in Rafa?
Garcia: he’s a role model. What impresses me most about him other than his fighting spirit and his way of never giving up, is his humility. He’s so young and he has won so much and yet, he remains a beautiful person, friendly. Above all, he’s always grateful for everything he experiences.

The French source is here: http://tinyurl.com/qbqon2

I think Murray and Djokovic are duly influenced in their hopes and aspirations by Rafa's success.

Posted by Heidi 05/14/2009 at 11:44 AM

You know, recently I remember reading a post on A-Rod that said that this was a good lesson for people not to idolize someone who they really don't know. It popped into my head about Gasquet. In general, it's a pretty good principle, especially in this celeb-driven culture. Better to pull out that old chestnut of mom or dad being your hero than Hannah Montana.

I think athletes can make fine role models as celebs go, but it depends on why the kids are attracted to them. Gasquet's 'image' was not exactly one of charitable deeds and hard work, at least not in the U.S. If people love Rafa's work ethic, that's great, but if they only like him because he wins or looks cool in his piratas, not so useful.

Posted by Vie 05/14/2009 at 12:09 PM

My own kids never were by our design and their disposition not into having people on TV for role models. I remember my 22-year old son, when he was a kid during the years when kids in school were crazy with things MJ. He was also one of those kids, but he never had an interest in sitting long enough to watch MJ play or even see amazing shots, nor did he have an interest in any personal quality of MJ.

Posted by jbradhunter 05/14/2009 at 12:47 PM

RE: Etcheberry and Justine- I remember when Justine stopped working with Etcheberry, and her comments afterwards about her body not needing so much bulk and how she was focusing on flexible,lean strength-conditioning moving forward-- I think she played the best tennis of her career after that Etcheberry period

As far as athletes being role models... honestly Rafa does inspire me in my own life- never give up, even if the task at hand seems too large--- Venus inspires me to remain positive no matter what, and display graciousness in win and defeat-- life is like a a giant tennis court sometimes, no?

Posted by Marie 05/14/2009 at 12:59 PM

It was mentioned in the article that if a girl needed a role model, she could look to Dinara Safina. I don't think (and I seem to be in the minority) that a person has to be the same gender or skin color as a person for them to be their role model. Dinara's work ethic and humility are examples for both boys and girls/men and women to follow. Same goes for James Blake's on-court conduct. Female players might not literally say "nice shot, man," but they can certainly try to emulate his courtesy and fair play. I think you limit yourself if you only look up to people who look just like you.

Posted by tina 05/14/2009 at 01:01 PM

Thing was jewell, at the time there were persistent rumors from many sources who claimed that Mantle had sort of jumped the queue for a liver, or that he was allowed to do so only because he was Mickey Mantle. And that Mantle's doctors and he himself knew beforehand that it likely wouldn't work. I am in no way saying that alcoholism isn't a terrible thing, but at the time I had a good friend in need of a transplant herself, for liver cancer not related to alcohol. Sadly, now both Mantle, with the precious liver, and my friend Pat are both dead.

I like and admire many entertainers/athletes - but it's friends like Pat who are my personal role models. I didn't really have any as a kid - except Bobby Kennedy, perhaps. And he was killed when I was 4. Sure, I had posters of the Bay City Rollers - but they were hardly role models, LOL.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/14/2009 at 01:13 PM

Sorry about your friend, Tina. See where you're coming from.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 01:17 PM

I echo jewell's sentiments, tina. I'm sad for your loss.

Posted by tina 05/14/2009 at 01:54 PM

Thanks guys. Pat Hearn was legendary in the New York art world, as was her beloved husband Colin de Land, who also died of (lung) cancer a while later. They got a shout-out in the John Waters film about the art world, "Pecker". In an environment that was sometimes filled with cattiness and schadenfreude, Pat and Colin stood out as being the most sincerely kind people you could hope to meet.

Like Dusty Springfield before him, Colin died on my birthday, too.

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/14/2009 at 02:13 PM

Marie
nice sentiments, but it would be hard for a young black girl from south africa, or south central LA to look at white women as role models. .Hard to see role models in people that wouldn't share a classroom, swimming pool, or a dinner with you.

Posted by cour1234 05/14/2009 at 02:28 PM

The problem with Safina being #1 isn't really a problem with her, perse, but with the unprecedented inconsistency of the Williams sisters to win outside of the Majors with any kind of regularity.

There has never been anything like it in the Open era, heck, I would venture there has never been anything like it in the last 75 years of womens tennis.

Serena has lost 4 straight matches. IF she falters early at Roland Garos I wouldn't be shocked if she could still manage to win Wimbledon, where she is has finalist points from last year, and still NOT get to Number one in the ranking. IRC Safina only made the 4th round last year..so if Safina makes the SF's or finals she might maintain her number one ranking.

So we would have the prospect of a player with 3 of the 4 Majors in her hip pocket who conceivably would be ranked 2 or lower.

No tweaking of the computer ranking could "cure" that.

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/14/2009 at 02:38 PM

cour1234
Safina has a bunch of points to defend, this summer, not to mention her FO final points.
Serena didn't play much last summer, the pressure is all on Safina to hold on to # 1 and get that first slam.
Serena has been there and done that and is really just padding her already Hall of Fame
credentials. It's too bad, she has not produced great results outsides the slams, but i doubt there are any players that wouldn't trade places with her and her achievements.
Only a handful of players have held all 4 slam titles at the same time. don't think Safina will be able to do that.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 03:20 PM

yello fuzzy...
I see that I was right about you all along -- huge chip on your shoulder. I'm sorry that you have not had good experiences with white people. But trust me when I say that not all of us harbor racial prejudices, bigotry or hatred. Some of us actually love people of all stripes.

Posted by waylandboy 05/14/2009 at 03:56 PM

I loved your thoughts about role models and challenging the norm. Very nice!

Posted by Veruca Salt (360) 05/14/2009 at 04:03 PM

maybe it's just me but i don't get the sudden backtracking and finger wagging going on regarding gasquet's situation. all of a sudden a player tests positive for an illegal drug (let's not touch whether or not he's guilty) and there's all this, "but it's not performance enhancing" or "everybody does it". please!

it's not about being a role model, it's about the fact that in any other profession, if you test positive for a drug, you would be fired! why should gasquet be any different? is it because regardless of his lack of result, he is well liked and popular? had it been say-robin soderling, would there have been the same outrage? i highly doubt that.

Posted by Kaygee 05/14/2009 at 04:15 PM

Veruca: Amen to that! Can you imagine the international scandal if it was James Blake, Serena, Venus or one of the usual suspects? They would have been blackballed from tennis worldwide immediately.

Slice-N-Dice: Your reaction to Fuzzy is a clear example of what she is saying. If you are in fact genuine about what you say about yourself then you should understand where Fuzzy is coming from. There is not enough change with enough people for your position to be the norm. And yes, I also believe that it is hard for a person from a totally different "background" to think themselves capable of achieving what people from certain "backgrounds" can achieve - that's the reality.

Posted by Andrew Broad 05/14/2009 at 04:49 PM

A Grand Slam is not "just a tournament" - it is the winning of all four Majors.

Posted by charles 05/14/2009 at 05:42 PM

cour1234
very interesting point you make... it WOULD be weird to have Serena holding 3 majors at #2 - in the old days of subjective ranking, she would have been regarded as #1 for sure...

Posted by 40 L'Oeuf 05/14/2009 at 05:46 PM

Nice try, but it doesn't cut again Pete. We're not talking about "role models" for adults, but kids here. Never seen the influence of a star athlete on kids membership in tennis, like Borg in the 70's and the Williams Sisters in the 90's ? Never seen a cereal box of Wheeties or an athlete's promotion for exercise on TV? Never seen the millions of kids wearing their favorite athletes jerseys or sneakers in the streets ? Never seen your kids' bedroom covered with athletes' posters? Never seen or heard your kid "role playing" his/her favorite athlete on the field or in the schoolyard ? Please !

Of course, kids are not going to "rush out to try to get some cocaine", Duh ! What they're going to do is lose their trust and interest in the sport of their favorite athlete...Tennis players are the ambassadors of tennis and sports in general, and the last thing tennis needs is a known cokehead signing autographs to youngsters . Gasquet should get an adequate suspension or fine (like a few tournaments, not 2 years of course) and the message should be clear that it is not acceptable behavior.

There's such thing as athletes "role models" for kids, and those who deny it are either not paying attention to their kids or forgot that they were once.

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/14/2009 at 05:48 PM

Slice-n-Dice
you might want to find out who you are talking to before you make statements about people that u do not know.
I have had great friendships with people of all stripes and have made an effort to have friends of all stripes, I've dated a Russian(yummy), Chinese,a Columbian, a Jamaican, a Brazilian, an Italian and assorted american mutts. I have friends from Fiji, Australia,Morocco, Great Britain and Germany. I've lived with an american Indian, a German a jew, gay people. women, and a married couple of a different ethic origin than my own. It is my lifes agenda to meet as many people , from as many varied places as I can.
I refuse to be segregated, but I also refuse to be part of the silent majority that sits by and watches it all fall apart. communication is the key and we are not always going to like what everyone else has to say, but if there is a kernel of truth we should acknowledge it and use it to form a better understanding.
the affects of apartheid are not nonexistent, wasn't it the purpose of apartheid to deny the humanity( and control of their homeland) of black africans(how did that work out?!). It seems ridiculous to me, for people victimized by such an overreaching hateful government policy, would look to the perpetrators as social icons or role models, especially after such a short time . I think there is some truth there and I refuse to apologize for it, let those that benefited from that system apologize. There are good people everywhere, even whites In SA or LA or Tennessee for that matter.
but there seems to be many more that remain silent in resistance to any dialogue that may make us uncomfortable.
I like to talk and discuss, debate...Thats really one of our greatest gifts is communication, but when you tell a person, you don't know they have a chip on their shoulder, then you're just blowing smoke and don't have much to offer to the conversation.

thanx Kaygee
for the clarification...i am sure Chanda Rubin Zina, or Lori Mcneil looked to Martina, Steffi or Chris as role models, no doubt role models can be universal, but ultimately people seek out those that they feel a kinship or as a member of the same group. There were not any black tennis player role models in those days..and 20 years later there's just 4 or five now

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 05:52 PM

yellow fuzzy,
I'm glad to hear that your llife hasd been enriched by your many travels and fine relationships with "people of all stripes" -- truly I am. But I stand by what I said, and I do so based on a previous "debate" you and I had over Muhammid Ali's place in sport and culture. You misconstrued my meaning then, and it was because of pre-conceived notions about what white society thinks. Let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 05:55 PM

Kaygee,

yello fuzzy and I have a short history, so my message was to be taken within that context, and that context only. I am quite cognizant of the institutionalized racism that exists in the world and in my own country and back yard.

I am just not a party to it, that is all. And yello fuzzy can choose, if she so wishes, to seek out the good.

But believe me, I get her (and your) point, and it is valid. It just does no one any good to stereotype or to generalize. We all have progressed to far (or at least striven to) to fall into those lazy mental traps.

Posted by cour1234 05/14/2009 at 06:14 PM

yellow fuzzy:

I just pointed out the possible scenario...if Safina can at least defend her points from last year (no small task) this scenario is possible (Serena holding 3 Majors and not being #1)

Whether anyone would trade results with Serena or the fact that Serena is already a HOF or Safina can't hold her resume is irrelevant to the point at hand. Even Serena herseslf today can't match the Serena for 2002-03 (the Serenaslam Serena) but once again, that is irrelevant to the computer ranking of 2009 for the last 52 weeks.

NO computer ranking system short of saying all that counts is only the Majors could put someone at number one if they have alot of inconsistent results throughout the previous 52 weeks.

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/14/2009 at 06:16 PM

Slice-n-Dice
obviously you want to believe what you want to believe, that works for you
peace guy

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/14/2009 at 06:24 PM

cour1234
no one can match the Serena of 2002 right now.....
we must note that Serena attempted to play more events this year, but her muscular game is hard on her body and she ain't no spring chicken. I think her expectations for this year after the AO were pretty high ...what do they say about best intentions?
It just kinda makes me uncomfortable the way some of the media are gloating over her failures this year.
No big news Serena thinks she's the best, whenever she steps on the court
how that becomes headline worthy is puzzling.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 05/14/2009 at 06:49 PM

For the record, this is the first time in her career that Serena will ever lose 4 straight matches.

court1234 - yes the scenario you mentioned about Serena holding 3 GSs and not being #1 is very possible and true. What I just want to clarify is that while the media and al ot of people have created this impression that Serena has always and only been about the slams that was not really the case until much later in her career, specifically 2005. Between 1999 and 2004 (2003 and early part of 2004 are slight exceptions because she was out for 8 months after Wimbledon due to surgery), she showed up not only at the slams but other events she played in winning 3 or more non GS titles every year from 1999-2002 and having one or more finalists appearances. She played half year in 2003 but still won two non GS titles and had one finalist appearance. She played three quarter year in 2004 and still won 2 non GS titles and had 3 finalists appearances.

The *real* inconsistency period was from 2005 to 2007. But by 2007 she was on track to getting to better form and had one non-GS title and one non-GS finalist appearance. By 2008 she was on a better upward slope again winning 3 non-GS titles before her USO win. Howvever she did little int he summer and fall of 2008 which is why she is where she is now at #2 and deservedly so. I do think she overdid it at the beginning of 2009 especially going deep SF and better in Sydney, AO, Paris, Dubai, and KB (Only Elena D had played more than her by that point in the year of all the players in the top ten). I do think she misjudged her body while trying to keep up with the schedule she planned for herself and playing more. The funny thing I noted at that time was that Serena had finally decided to come back to term with running for the points and the rankings and I thought it was a good thing as many said she and Venus make a mockery of the system by not winning much outside of the slams. But while she may have overdone it in her attempts, it is sad that the the positive intentions are not being considered.

Posted by court1234 05/14/2009 at 07:01 PM

Yellowfuzzy:

I think what has happpened is that in the post Graf era the most consistent player has not always been the player that wins the most Majors.

The only two years in which there really has been no dispute per YE #1 in the last 10 years were 2002 (Serena won 3 Majors) 2003 (Justine won 2) and 2007 (Justine won 2). Part of that has been there have been years like 98,99,04,05,08 where there have been 4 different Major winners. And one year the more consistent player Justine(1 Major) trumped the Player with 2 Majors (Mauresmo) in 2006.

In a rolling 52 week ranking system there are bound to be anomalies as to who is ranked #1. Ultimately by YE the player with most consistent results for the previous 12 months will have the most points.

I agree Serena has the right to think and express that she is the real number one...it certainly appears to me that even Safina seemed to "get" the context of what Serena was talking about.

But I think it's not just Serena, but ironically even Safina, who have gotten beaten up by the press, in Safina's case for being a Majorless "number one".

Posted by cour1234 05/14/2009 at 07:16 PM

Sighrena, I agree that Rena seemed more committed to playing tournaments at the beginning of 2009

The sixty four thousand dollar question is how much of her inconsistent play is due to injuries as opposed to poor conditioning or a combination of both?

That is open to debate

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 05/14/2009 at 07:26 PM

court1234 - Well first we'll say the inconsistency started at the since the beginning of the clay season (her losses before then were to the winners of the tournaments she did not win: ElenaD, Vee, Vika). However she had been having problems with the knee since Paris (which is why I think Paris was unnecessary but the WTA zero point penalty has apparently scared Serena too. Unfortunately, I cannot answer this *sixty four thousand dollar question* ;-). But let's just wait and see what happens during RG and Wimbledon.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/14/2009 at 09:05 PM

yello fuzzy-

Peace and blessings to you, too. We all have outr crosses to bear, and we all live in isolation to some extent, so it is preumptuous of me and you and anyone to think we know another's reality.

All the best,
Slice

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/15/2009 at 08:22 AM

Slice-n-Dice
I had a feeling you were more of a lover than a fighter. : )
Sometimes I get a bit carried away and I don't mind being corrected or challenged, thats part of the game when one puts their opinions out there.
I appreciate your candor

Posted by Kaygee 05/15/2009 at 11:55 AM

cour1234: Do you know how old Serena is? At her age in tennis most women would have been long gone (Henin, Kimmie, Hingis) because of the continuous beatings the body takes for so many years. Serena should be applauded for doing what she is doing at the top of women's tennis.

Nobody dogged Lindsay Davenport when she was going through injury after injury month in and month out when she was Serena's age - nobody talked about her lack of conditioning, etc. because she looked different from Serena - and she still did not achieve what Serena has achieved at this age. Remember Davenport's last slam? She stopped winning slams at a young age - Serena at this age is still winning slams.

I wish haters like you would just leave Serena alone - I could respect your opinions if you were fair with others in similar situations - but just to be consistently dogging Serena is just plain mean and wrong.

Like I said, step back and analyze what Serena is doing at her age (with the exception of Martina Navra...) - Serena and Venus are exceptional female tennis athletes - especially in this time of tennis where everyone is so much stronger and faster than the times of Steffi, Martina, Chris Evert, etc. - you should be awed by them - not so negatively critical.

Posted by 05/15/2009 at 07:22 PM

Yellow Fuzzy wrote:

"no one can match the Serena of 2002 right now....."
-----------------

Tru dat! Not even Serena! ;)!

Posted by Nancy J 05/15/2009 at 08:12 PM

Yellow Fuzzy wrote:

"i am sure Chanda Rubin Zina, or Lori Mcneil looked to Martina, Steffi or Chris as role models, no doubt role models can be universal, but ultimately people seek out those that they feel a kinship or as a member of the same group. There were not any black tennis player role models in those days..and 20 years later there's just 4 or five now"
---------------------------------

Zina also looked to Billie Jean too as I've read.

Arthur Ashe and Leslie Allen should be in the conversation for tennis player role models in the era leading into Zina and Lori's and Chip Hooper's, etc. time. Yeah, Arthur was a guy, and although he wasn't on the tour anymore in the 80's, he was a commentator still. And Leslie may not have been a super star, but she won the Detroit tour event in 1981. So, I don't agree that there weren't any...

Posted by Nancy J 05/15/2009 at 08:27 PM

Veruca Salt wrote:

"it's not about being a role model, it's about the fact that in any other profession, if you test positive for a drug, you would be fired! why should gasquet be any different?"
----------------------------------

I certainly don't want the pilot of my airplane or the doctor doing my surgery high on even green tea! But, I don't know if I support universal firings for drugs. I think people deserve a second chance where possible.

Posted by yello fuzzy 05/16/2009 at 08:34 AM

Nancy J
People look to those that are at the top of their fields as role models. great achievements by leslie Allen and Chip Hooper, but most kids who go into athletics want to be top players. I remember JMac saying during a commentary long ago, when tennis sees the likes of a Michael Jordan, 6'7" quick feet, good hands and a solid head for the game, that would be a great inspiration to a lot of kids in the inner cities who don't see themselves currently part of the world of tennis. Tennis is not getting to the great athletes in americas inner cities. The USTA isn't getting it done and Nick Bollettieri only seems to work with Europeans primarily.Gilbert seems to be all about money and Jmac has expressed his desire to work with Federer, meanwhile the future of american tennis is in the crapper

Posted by Nancy J 05/16/2009 at 05:43 PM

Yellow, I can only speak as an inner city black kid myself at that time! I was a rare tennis fan -- well, later me and my best friend, Celeste, from Hampton Junior High in Detroit. We played as often as we could on those broken concrete courts at Mumford High (famous for the Eddie Murphy Bev Hills Cops movies). I was 11 years old when I fell in love with the game of Chrissie Evert as a black girl out of Cleveland, and later moving to Motown.

Having only Arthur Ashe as a top player did not stop me from looking up to other black players past and present -- including Althea Gibson to Diane Morrison(promising junior who played some pro tourneys)! Diane actually dated my husband. She quit tennis to become a doctor, but I'll never forget when I first got to speak to her in 1987. I was nearly jumping up and down (even though she was dating the guy I wanted! LOL). I was so excited and appreciative of her contributions to tennis. That never went away. Regardless of her ranking!

So we disagree. To me, the important thing was what the player brought to the game. It didn't need to be number one. The minority players of the past -- being minority myself -- meant a hell of a lot to me. I include Rosie Casals in that. Another hero of mine.


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