I was watching some NBA basketball this evening – the LA Lakers beating up on the Houston Rockets – and it got me twisting on the Williams sisters and their Indian Wells situation.
What if before tonight’s game Kobe Bryant told the coach, “Hey Phil, I want to sit this one out. Okay?” Or what if Kobe made such a request ahead of a bigger game, like a playoff tilt or their traditional Christmas day contest? “Coach Jackson, I’d really like to take this game off. I have some personal issues with LeBron James, he really talks a lot of crap to my face, insults me and my family and all. And I really don’t need such abuse on Christmas. Cool?”
Ah, no, not cool KB. If Kobe tried such an act he would be swiftly fined and likely suspended from the team for a game or two. And I would say that’s fairly true in other major team sports.
But if Kobe slapped on a skirt, pasted on that WTA patch, grabbed some graphite and joined the women’s tour, hell, he could pick and choose where he wanted to play without so much as a dirty look from the ruling body.
And that’s just what the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, proved again this week by ditching Indian Wells for an eighth consecutive time. What makes it even more stinging is the fact Venus just played Dubai then Acapulco, and she’s now resting during IW. How nice.
What an absolute slap in the fact to the WTA brass who came out late last year with their much ballyhooed rule making their four premier events mandatory. But after one event it’s clear the rule is a total farce and WTA is too scared to actually suspend top players for missing their premier stops.
Under the new law, the WTA has basically told Venus and Serena and the rest of the top women: If you dare skip one of our four mandatory premier events, you will either a) get fined up to $75k and suffer a two-week suspension; or b) we’ll make you do some “promotional activities” down the road (i.e. slap you on the wrist, maybe both wrists if you’re a real meany!).
Now unless you are Bernie Madoff, Roger Clemens or some other shamed public figure who doesn’t want to be anywhere near a microphone, you are taking option “b”, running with it and never looking back.
And that’s what Venus and Serena are going to do according to WTA spokesman Andrew Walker.
Just imagine if the Lakers had told Kobe, “Sure, Kobe, take Game 5 of the playoffs off, just be forewarned as punishment we will make you do some extra interviews during the off season.” Oh please.
Some deterrent. In reality it’s an escape clause.
Of course similar star treatment does go on in other sports, but in tennis do the top players ever get really punished for missing tournaments? Maybe a fine, maybe some lost points? Points you often can’t fully recoup, but prize money is a snap with tournaments like Dubai around.
Both the WTA and the ATP talk a big game of “the top players have to play, and they will” but often when they don’t very little gets done about it. And the game suffers, the tournaments suffer and it’s going to continue until one of the tours steps up and takes a hard line against these types of player withdrawals. Wishful thinking I guess. As always, the players run the asylum.
On the Williams IW saga, I will say the girls are wrong for skipping IW, the WTA is wrong for being gutless (again, see their Dubai wrist slap!) and the tournament is stuck in the middle as usual, just trying to get by on an incomplete product. That said, kudos to the ATP guys for all showing up in the desert and for proving again that the men lead the way in pro tennis.
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